Sugar in food

Glucose, galactose, fructose, sucrose, lactose, maltose… these are all types of what is commonly called sugar. Given the health effects that can be caused by excessive sugar consumption, ANSES recommends not consuming more than 100 g of sugar per day (excluding lactose and galactose) and not more than one sweetened beverage.

Carbohydrates can be divided into sugars (or "simple carbohydrates"), which often have a sweet taste (glucose, fructose, galactose, maltose, lactose, sucrose), and starches (or "complex carbohydrates"), which are essential for the energy they provide, digested in the intestine and mainly absorbed in the form of glucose.

The main sugars found in foods

The main sugars found in the foods consumed on a daily basis are glucose, fructose, sucrose and lactose.

Glucose is found in most sweet-tasting plant products (fruit, honey, some vegetables) but also in a free state in biological fluids (particularly blood).

Fructose occurs very widely in nature, in fruits particularly and in many vegetables. It is found in the inulin of the roots or tubers of certain plants (artichoke, onion, chicory, Jerusalem artichoke).

Sucrose (commonly known as "table sugar") consists of a glucose unit bonded to a fructose unit. Sucrose is the reference sugar used for defining the sweetening power of sugars, polyols and intense sweeteners.

Lactose and galactose are sugars naturally present in dairy products.

Sugars are also found in foods under other names, such as invert sugar, glucose and fructose syrups, concentrated juices and fruit syrups, musts, honey, etc.

What effects does sugar have on health?

In its 2016 report “Updating of the PNNS guidelines: establishment of recommendations on sugar intake” (PDF) (in French) (see Opinion in English based on the report here (PDF)), ANSES stressed that sugars, especially in liquid form (sodas, nectars, fruit juices produced from concentrates, fresh fruit juices, smoothies, etc.) contribute to weight gain.

The Agency's work shows that sugar consumption beyond a certain quantity presents health risks due to direct effects on weight gain and the increase in levels of triglycerides (lipids) and uric acid in blood, as well as indirect effects on type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, diseases that are currently major public health issues.

An excess of sugar can therefore cause overweight, obesity and associated diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

Concerning the risks to oral health, the Agency reiterates that the relationship between the consumption of sugar and dental caries has already been demonstrated. This relationship led the World Health Organization (WHO) to conditionally recommend reducing the intake of sugars to below 5% of total energy intake (TEI).

An analysis of the available data by ANSES was unable to distinguish the health effects of sugars naturally present in food from those of added sugars.

In view of these findings, the Agency recommends that adults consume no more than 100 g of total sugars per day (excluding lactose and galactose) and not more than one sweetened beverage (giving preference to fruit juice).

In France, given the distribution between added sugars and sugars naturally present (fruit and vegetables) in food, this recommendation is consistent with that of the WHO to limit free sugar intake to less than 10% of the TEI (or 50 g for an energy intake of 2000 kcal), which has been widely disseminated in many countries. The WHO’s definition of free sugars includes both added sugars and sugars naturally contained in fruit juice.

Moreover, 20 to 30% of French adults have sugar intakes (excluding lactose and galactose) above 100 g/d. To address this public health issue, the Agency recommends, particularly to the public authorities:

  • limiting the availability of sweetened products in automatic vending machines and in particular in all places of education and teaching (primary and secondary schools, higher education, universities, etc.);
  • taking measures to limit the incentive to consume sweet products (visual, audio-visual or audio advertising, free distributions, etc.)

What about sweeteners?

ANSES reiterates that the objectives to reduce sugar intake should be achieved by reducing the overall sweetness of food, from a very early age. ANSES's work on intense sweeteners found that their consumption had no beneficial effects on weight control, blood glucose levels in diabetics or the incidence of type 2 diabetes. Therefore, regarding sweetened beverages in particular, artificially-sweetened beverages (just like sugar-sweetened beverages) should not be consumed as substitutes for water.