ALTHOUGH we are advised that free sugars should make up five per cent or less of our daily calories, studies show that for some this figure may be greater than 20 per cent. While tooth decay is the most recognised side effect of excess sugar consumption, eating too much free sugars can lead to a vast array of complaints.

Sugars fall into two categories, those naturally occurring in foods such as milk, whole fruits and vegetables, which are part of a balanced diet, versus free sugars, typically added to products to enhance their flavour and appeal. Milk, fruit and vegetables contain nourishing minerals, vitamins and fibre, so although we should be aware these contain sugar, we don’t necessarily need to reduce consumption. However free sugars have no nutritional benefit.

Using sugar cubes as an example, adults should consume no more than seven sugar cubes per day. This amount is less for children. Yet the average can of cola contains nine sugar cubes worth of free sugars, with children and teenagers among the highest consumers of fizzy drinks. Free sugars occur in several products you might not necessarily associate them with, such as ketchup and other condiments, as well as foods assumed to be healthy, such as yoghurts and breakfast cereals. Once a fruit is juiced, its sugars become free, and it loses much of the fibre.

Weight gain can result from excess sugar consumption. Inside the liver, excess sugar cannot be converted to glycogen, the product which when broken down releases glucose into the blood to increase your energy levels. Instead, it gets stored as fat.

High blood sugars, obesity, and inflammation are all associated with increased risk of certain cancers. The negative effects of excess consumption of free sugars are so far reaching that it has been shown to result in anxiety and depression, poor sleep and even the development of dementia.

Perhaps the simplest advice that can be given for controlling your intake of free sugars is to prepare meals from scratch where possible, avoiding processed food.

Easy swaps are switching fizzy drinks with a high sugar content to those where the label clearly states “no added sugar”.

As with many lifestyle alterations, success may lie in gently modifying your diet, initially cutting out sugars where you are less likely to notice the difference, while also allowing yourself treats occasionally.