Reading Labels: Sugar

September 2, 2018

Interpreting food labels can be tricky and confusing, so I wanted to share some everyday basics that you can use to identify sugar content in pre-packaged and processed foods when you are food shopping or buying snacks.

TIP to remember: Every 4.5g of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar

The current guidelines by the World Health Organisation recommend limiting your sugar intake to 30g or the equivalent of 6 teaspoons of sugar per day of free sugars. Free sugars are classed as added sugars. This, by the way, does not include fruit and vegetables. I absolutely recommend that you have 2-3 pieces/serves of fruit every day and aim for 7 serves of veggies. EVERY DAY (very important!).

The kind of sugar that I’m talking about is the kind you’ll find in a can of Coke, sweet treats, breakfast cereals, hidden sugars in savoury sauces, crisps etc. (yes, most crisps with added flavourings often equates to some extra sugar!). Or anything under the disguise of these names; dextrose, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, honey, maple syrup, sucrose, malt, maltose, lactose, brown sugar, caster sugar, maple syrup, raw sugar, sucrose.

Having the knowledge to identify sugar content can help you make more informed food choices.

Food Labels - SugarThe Nutrition Label:

Sugar is listed underneath carbohydrate content on the Nutritional Information label.

It is identified in two ways; ‘per serving’ or ‘per 100g’.

Per Serving:

First, see how many servings there are per pack – this is detailed underneath the Nutritional Information heading and will tell you if there one serve or more and the weight of the serving size.

It is worth assessing the reality of the serving size. Serving sizes can be small and unrealistic, so if you think in reality you will have two serves, double the amount of sugar that is in the product etc.

Per 100g:

This is standard on all packaged foods, so is a good way to compare like for like. A guideline to work from is;

High in sugar – 22.5g of total sugars per 100g

Low in sugar – 5g of total sugars per 100g

I prefer to read the per serving numbers rather than per 100g. It can be misleading. Let’s take a can of Coke as an example; per 100g one can of Coke contains 11g sugar and looks quite low, but one serve is actually 368g weight and contains 39g sugar.

Food Labels - Sugar

If you look at the label in this image. It belongs to Lindt 90% Dark Chocolate (my favourite!). There are 5 servings per pack. That equates to 2 pieces of Lindt. I often have 2 pieces of Lindt 90% after dinner. Sometimes I have 4 pieces, so the sugar will increase from 1.2g to 2.4g. This is the equivalent to 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and is much lower in sugar than other chocolate.

How To Use This Guide?

This guide is not here to ruin your love of chocolate, its purely to help you improve your knowledge and understanding to enable you to make better choices. Reading labels can be overwhelming and whilst calorie counting isn’t something I promote or support, I think its really important that we all know how to understand the sugar content in foods.

I don’t always read labels, but if I need to buy a snack in the local store and want something healthy, understanding how to interpret a label comes in handy.


Thanks for taking the time to read my guide and if you’ve found this useful, I’d love to hear your comments below.

If you’d like to learn more about the basics of nutrition, please take a look at my Nutrition Basics guides on Carbohydrates, Protein, Fats, Fibre and Water.


Amy Savage is a qualified Nutritionist with a Bachelor of Health Science in Nutritional & Dietetic Medicine and is available for consultations online and in Sydney CBD. Email for further details. 

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