2015 - the year of Sugar Swaps


It's the New Year and all the decorations have been put away. Now's the time for New Year's resolutions - but while a survey by Cancer Research UK found that over half of us have made them in the past, and about one in four made them last year alone, over 90% of people break their New Year's resolutions within six months.

Maybe the problem is that we're not realistic - we leave the Christmas period feeling bloated and overindulged, and try to give up too much all at once to turn back the clock. This year Change4Life has devised some easy changes that you might just be able to stick to.

Based around easy swaps to reduce the amount of sugar you eat, the swaps are partly aimed at getting kids in particular to eat less sugar. A recent survey for the mums' website Netmums showed that 47% of mothers think their family eats too much sugar and 67% are worried about the amount of sugar their children eat(1). Sadly, they worry with good reason. Too much sugar is a major contributor to obesity, and one in five children aged four to five and one in three 10- 11-year-olds are overweight or obese (2). What's more, tooth decay affects more than one in four five-year-olds, and is the most common reason for hospital admissions among five- to nine-year-olds (3).

But the swaps can be useful for adults, too. Current guidelines suggest sugar should make up no more than 10% of calorie intake. In the UK, four- to 18-year-olds are eating about 50% more sugar than this, and adults almost 20% more than recommended. Four- to 10-year- olds get 17% of their daily sugar from soft drinks; 17% from biscuits, buns, cakes, pastries and fruit pies, 14% from sweets, 13% from fruit juice, and 8% from breakfast cereals.

The Sugar Swaps campaign focuses on four key times of day when sugar intake can mount up:

  • The Breakfast Swap: sugary cereal for plain cereal - eg, wholewheat biscuit cereal, perhaps with fruit added to jazz it up. To wean the kids (or yourself) off gently, try a half and half mixture of the two to begin with
  • The Drink Swap: eg, from sugary drinks to sugar-free or no-added-sugar drinks. Because fruit juice contains sugar, they recommend limiting it to one 150 ml glass a day with food, or diluting it with fizzy water. They also advise us to beware 'fruit juice drinks' which are often mistaken for pure fruit juices but can be much higher in sugar, as well as lower in vitamins
  • The After School Swap: eg, from muffin or chocolate bar to fruited teacake. For mums, it may be worth getting together with other parents at your kids' school to encourage all of them to make the change, and reducing the chance of pestering when your child sees what others are tucking into
  • The Pudding Swap: eg, from ice cream or a sticky steamed pudding to a low-fat, lower-sugar yoghurt.

It's not rocket science, but maybe that's the joy. There are lots of simple, practical ideas on the site that can provide positive health benefits, as well as reducing sugar - for instance, increasing dietary fibre. They aren't recommending that we forget about fat, and particularly saturated fat, as a contributor to poor health - just trying to help us take one practical, easily maintained step at a time.


1) Online survey conducted with 687 parents of children aged 5-11 & 1720 parents of children of all ages, October 2104 netmums.com

2) National Child Measurement Programme 2014 http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB16070/nati-chil-meas-prog-eng-2013-2014-rep.pdf

3) National Dental Epidemiology Programme for England: oral health survey of five year old children 2012.

4) Bates B, Lennox A, Prentice A et al.(2012) National Diet and Nutrition Survey Headline results from Years 1, 2 and 3 (combined) of the Rolling Programme (2008/2009 - 2010/11). Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-diet-and-nutrition-survey-headline-results-from-years-1-2-and-3-combined-of-the-rolling-programme-200809-201011

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