What Are Free Sugars and How Does the Body Use Them?

It’s a fact that almost every person enjoys sweet and tasty food. The thing is, most of the foods you love contain some form of sugar that gives them their unique tastes. For most of us, we know that too much sugar is not good for our health since they can lead to obesity and overweight, which increase your risk of developing cancer, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

What Are Free Sugars?

Free sugars can be described as all the sugars added by the cook, manufacturer, or the consumer as well as those sugars that are naturally present in fruit juice, honey, or syrup. They include monosaccharides and disaccharides such as table sugar.

In other words, these are the sugars in chocolate, fizzy drinks, flavored yogurt, cookies, and breakfast cereals. These sugars are different than those naturally found in milk/milk products (lactose), whole fruits (fructose), and vegetables. They are termed free sugars because they are not contained inside the cells of the food we eat. Take fruit juice for example. When you eat an apple, the sugar in the apple is attached to other components such as fiber and will not get absorbed until the digestive system has separated it from the other components.

Now, when you make juice out of apples, the natural sugars break free to form ‘free sugars’, which the body metabolizes as an added sugar.

How Much Sugar Should I Eat?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that you limit your sugar intake to a maximum of 10 percent of your overall calorie intake. For instance, if you consume 2,000 calories per day, that would mean 12 teaspoons or 48 g of sugar, which is still too much if you ask me. Limiting the intake to five percent of daily calories seems to be less harmful to your health. Considering this, you need to control what you eat or drink. A glass of fruit juice (with no added sugar) contains almost six teaspoons of free sugar. And knowing how sweet the juice is, it’s easy to down two to three glasses, which surpasses the maximum recommended sugar intake. This happens despite thinking that since it’s fruit juice, you’re eating healthy.

Effects of Free Sugars on Your Body Weight Gain

Sweetened drinks are associated with overweight and obesity in both children and adults. This is due to the excess sugar content that these drinks contain. The same happens when you take a diet that has too much sugar. What happens is that sugar raises your calorie intake. When you eat more calories than your body can expend, the liver stores the extra energy as fat. This changes the way your body transports fats in the blood, making it less responsive to insulin. As a result, you start to gain weight. The extra weight affects your body’s response to insulin, which increases your risk of various health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Tooth Decay

Dental caries can be caused by many factors. Carbohydrates are particularly to blame for tooth decays since the bacteria found on the teeth feed on the carbohydrates, producing acids. These acids breakdown the teeth, forming cavities. Any carbohydrate-containing foods or drinks that stick to the teeth increase the chances of tooth decay. Limiting your intake of snacks and brushing your teeth with fluoride can help prevent tooth decay.

Tips to Reduce Free Sugar Intake

Practically, it’s not possible to entirely cut down on free sugar intake. However, you can limit your intake of drinks and foods that contain added sugars. Here are some tips to guide you:

  • Avoid giving children fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. Instead, give them lots of water and milk.
  • Avoid cookies and other baked foods that have added sugars. You can try baking your own snacks without the added sugars.
  • If you take a lot of fizzy drinks like sodas, start reducing your intake while increasing water consumption. Pay more attention to the sugar content of the drinks you take and go for sugar-free, no-added-sugar or diet drinks, which may contain fewer sugars.
  • If you like taking your coffee sweet, start cutting back on the amount of sugar you add until you cut it out completely.
  • Instead of making fruit juice, eat the fruits whole. You’ll get all the advantage of fibers as well.
  • Choose unsweetened breakfast cereal and add fruits for natural sweetness.
  • Reduce the amount of jam, syrup, or other sugary spreads on your bread.
  • Reserve ice creams and milkshakes for special occasions only.


Free sugars, when taken in moderation, will have minimal effects on our health. Failing to watch or control the consumption of soft drinks, sweetened drinks, or sugary foods leads to health complications that could be avoided if we were able to limit our daily sugar intake. Avoiding free sugars is not difficult. Start reducing the amount of sugar you add to your drinks and reducing the sugar in the foods you eat. Gradually, you’ll get used to taking less sugar, and as a result, reduce your risks for certain diseases.

All images by Pixabay


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