More fibre, less sugar – carbohydrates under the spotlight  

In July 2015 a much anticipated report on carbohydrates and health from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) was published.  Carbohydrates have had a bad press, much of it is undeserved.

Carbohydrates, along with fats and proteins, supply the body with energy.  It is recommended that about half of our energy comes from carbohydrate.  However the term carbohydrates covers a diverse range of foods, from simple sugars and starches to dietary fibres which cannot be digested in the human gut.  Experts who recently reviewed all the available research concluded that there was no sound scientific basis for reducing our carbohydrate intake.  

However they did agree that quality is key.  We should be eating fewer “free sugars” and more of the complex fibrous carbohydrates such as whole grains,  whole fruits, vegetables, lentils and pulses.

This simple advice to cut down on sugars and  increase our consumption of whole grain cereals, fruits and vegetables is not entirely new, but the targets have been changed.

Now most of us should be eating no more than 5 teaspoons or 25g of "free sugars" per day - about 5% of our daily energy intake.  This does not include the sugar found in milk or in whole fruits and vegetables but does include the sugar in drinks (including fruit juice) sweets, chocolate, cakes and, biscuits, puddings, jams, jellies and syrups.  A tough ask for many of us.

On a daily basis adults should now be eating as much as 30g of fibre - that's 6g more than before.    

Carbohydrates and their sources
Carbohydrate type Examples  Foods
Simple sugars   Glucose, fructose, galactose, sucrose, maltose, lactose    Fruit, honey, syrups, jams,jellies, sweets, sugaruy drinks, fruit juice, table sugar.  Lactose is milk sugar
Polyols Isomalt, maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol Suagr alcohols are mainly made and used in manufactured foods such as confectionary and chewing gum.
Oligosaccharides Fructo-oligosaccharides Usually 3-9 sugar units long.  Grains, pulses, prebiotic foods 
Starchy polysaccharides  Starch, amylose, maltodextrin 10 or more sugar units long.  Root vegetables like potato, carrot, swede and cereals  
Dietary fibre  Cellulose, pectin, gums, inulin, beta glucan 

Cellulose (cell wall of plants), pectins (fruits and vegetables), Beta glucans (rye, oats and barley) 

 

Here are some common foods and their sugar content 

 
Food Amount   g sugar 
TABLE SUGAR  1 teaspoon 5
SUGAR COATED CEREAL 1 small bowl 10
CAN FIZZY DRINK 330 ml 35
CHOCOLATE 35 g

17.5

ORANGE JUICE 150 ml 12.5
HONEY, JAM, SYRUP 1 tablespoon 12
SMOOTHIE 180 ml 20

Fibre content of common foods 

Food Amount  g Fibre
WHITE BREAD 1 large slice 1
WHOLEMEAL BREAD 1 large slice 2.5 
MUESLI 45g 4
PORRIDGE 50g dry oats 4.5
SHREDDED WHEAT 1 biscuit 5.2g
WHITE RICE 180g cooked weight 2
BROWN RICE 180g cooked weight 3.8
WHITE PASTA 100g dry weight 3
WHOLEMEAL PASTA 100g dry weight 9
FRESH FRUIT 80g 2
VEGETABLES 80g 2
NUTS 30g - handful 3
SUNFLOWER SEEDS 15g -1 tablespoon 1
LENTILS, PULSES 20g - 1 tablespoon 4

What might a typical meal plan look like? 

FOOD g free sugars g fibre

Bowl of sugar free muesli with skimmed milk. 

Slice of wholemeal toast

Low fat spread and jam 

50ml apple juice mixed with 50ml water 



 

 

7

5

4

 

2.5

Piece of frruit e.eg banana   2

Wholemeal roll

vegetable and bean soup

 

4

7.5

Spaghetti bolognaise

​Wholemeal spaghetti

Low fat yoghurt 

Calorie free squash

5

 

5

1.5

9

Hot milk

Digestive biscuit

 

2.5

 

0.5

TOTALS 24.5 31