What does refined sugar-free mean anyway?



#naturallysweetened, #refinedsugarfree, #noaddedsugar. 

How’s a parent meant to know the difference, is there any difference or is it all just nutribollocks?!

Pretty much! These trendy hashtags tell us nothing about sugar content or sweetness, and come mainly from well-meaning but misguided wellness and food bloggers. They, unfortunately for us, have the cash to swap sugar for agave nectar but don’t understand enough about nutritional science to know that all ‘free sugars’ are created equal.


Free sugars


Nutritional Science classifies sugar like this:

Free sugar:

  • All sugar added during manufacture or at home, in whatever form including honey, syrups and nectars
  • All the sugars naturally present in fruit and vegetable juices, concentrates, smoothies, purées, pastes, powders and extruded fruit and vegetable products (like many baby fruit snacks)
  • All sugars in drinks like unsweetened fruit and vegetable juices, fruit and vegetable juice concentrates and smoothies; ∙ all sugars in alcoholic drinks; ∙ all sugars naturally present in dairy-alternative drinks such as soya, rice, oat and nut-based drinks

Not free sugar:

  • All the sugars naturally present in fresh and most types of processed (dried, stewed, canned and frozen) fruit and vegetables (including beans and pulses)
  • Lactose and galactose naturally present in milk and other dairy-based drinks


Don’t listen to bloggers or self-styled nutrition experts!


So, what are the recommendations for sugar?

Children under four should eat as little ‘free sugar’ as possible, particularly during the first two years when we are training those tiny taste buds! After that, we should keep ‘free sugars’ to less than 5% of our total energy intake. You can see here what that means for you and your family. It’s funny but I get more queries on social media about the sugar content of cornflakes (not much) than on the baby products which have considerably more! Clever marketing, perhaps?


how much free sugars

Read more about sugar and commercial baby food pouches here.


Taking sugar off it’s pedastel

‘Your child will learn to manage sweets and keep them in proportion to other foods if you matter of factly include them in family meals and snacks’

Ellyn Satter, Registered Dietitian and Family Therapist

While we don’t want to overeat sugar, we also don’t want to put sugar and sweets on a pedestal! When you say ‘just take two more bites of carrot for me, and you can have dessert’, your child hears, carrots good, dessert bad, carrots yuk, dessert yum! That’s not the message we want out children to grow up with.

We could talk about this all day! But, if you’re still reading, here are a few ways that work in my family to keep sweet foods in their place.

  • I try not to use these foods as a reward or bribe
  • I try not to refer to sweets as treats (although my kids still do!)
  • I include sweets, cakes and desserts as part of meals and snack regularly (I like them too!)
  • I offer dessert alongside their main dinner rather than afterwards. Mostly we have something fruity or some yoghurt and less often something sugary like cakes or sugary puddings.
  • I occasionally let my kids eat as many sweets as they like without any restriction. Shock, horror! I think it’s essential for them to learn how it feels when they eat too many of these foods and how it feels to eat the right amount. Halloween is a great time to practice this!
  • I don’t generally buy fizzy drinks, but they occasionally drink them if we go out. Although with four kids, I often ask for a jug of water, it’s cheaper!

Want to know more? Why not book at consultation with me? 



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