Amy Emerson

We’re a nation of sugar addicts and we deserve better

3 mins read

  • New evidence shows that Australians consume up to 11 teaspoons of added sugar a day per person, well above the recommended 6 teaspoons from the WHO.
  • Added sugars are “empty calories” contributing to obesity and type 2 diabetes, tooth decay, weight gain, chronic disease and inflammation.
  • This study highlights the need for more honest labelling from Big Food and updates to current government policy.

A new study led by researchers from The George Institute for Global Health (University of New South Wales) analysed a year’s worth of grocery purchase data from almost 7,200 Australian households. They found that households consume an average of 9 teaspoons of sugar per day per person, often as much as eleven teaspoons, predominantly among lower-income households.



The World Health Organisation recommends adults consume less than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day. The grocery data is concerning as it doesn’t consider added sugar from food and drinks that one might buy outside the supermarket, such as those from cafés, restaurants, take-aways and vending machines.

Lead author and dietitian Daisy Coyle said that “while people might think they’re doing a good job of cutting back, sugar could be sneaking into their diet in hidden forms”.

“While some of these sugar-laden categories are more obvious, like chocolate, soft drinks, biscuits and cakes, there are some you wouldn’t expect, like yogurts and sauces.”

What does the study suggest we do better?

The study highlights a need for more transparent labelling to provide consumers with clear information to help them manage dietary sugars.

The George Institute’s Program Head of Nutrition Science, Dr Jason Wu, said the research highlighted opportunities to do better.

“Consumers deserve to know what’s in the food they are eating, and we strongly support having the amount of added sugar in a product clearly spelt out. This could also prompt the food industry to reduce the amount of sugar they’re pouring into processed foods,” Dr Wu added.

“Unfortunately, current government policy does not go far enough to support healthier diets – their sugar targets for the food industry are weak, and consumers still don’t have the information they need on the label to help them avoid added sugars when shopping.”

How is Defeat Diabetes part of the solution?

We waited a long time for our government to take action against type 2 diabetes and the obesity epidemic. So, when we launched the Defeat Diabetes Program, we knew it would be an uphill battle.

We know change takes time, but when it comes to type 2 diabetes, simply put, we don’t have time to wait.

The Defeat Diabetes Program is about following a real food way of eating. We focus on the benefits of a low carb diet (meaning a significant reduction in sugar intake) as the key to putting type 2 diabetes into remission.

We are committed to working for this cause, but ultimately, we need the government to step in and take greater action against this devastating epidemic.

We share the same sentiments as the researchers, “We don’t want shoppers to have to wait years for this information, we want people to be able to make informed choices now. Small changes can really add up,” Dr Wu says.

Helpful tips to avoid being fooled by food labels:

  • Watch out for some of the common names manufacturers use to disguise sugar. Brown sugar, concentrated fruit juice, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, sucrose, honey, lactose, maltose, mannitol, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar and sucrose rice malt syrup, but certainly not limited to these – in fact, there are around 60 different words used to describe sugar.
  • Red alert words. Words like “syrup” and “sugar” are highly likely to mean added sugar. Likewise, anything described as “crystals” or “concentrate” is suspect as well.
  • 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon. The World Health Organisation says we should limit intake of added sugars to 6 teaspoons per day.
  • Start at the very beginning. Items on food labels are listed in order from largest to smallest by weight. If one or more of the names for sugar feature towards the start of the list, that’s a sign that the product is high in added sugar.

Related articles

From quick-fix to lasting success: A new approach to Ozempic
By Defeat Diabetes

< 1 min read

7 low carb lunch ideas for busy days
By Defeat Diabetes

< 1 min read

Type 2 diabetes and low carb: Is it for you?
By Defeat Diabetes

< 1 min read

5 easy low carb hearty dinners
By Defeat Diabetes

2 mins read

The essential guide to low carb vs low GI
Breaking news: Should everyone adopt low carb? – The Australian

Join Australia's first doctor-led, evidence-based program transforming the lives of those with pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions.

  • Deep-dive lessons
  • Video masterclasses
  • Easy-to-read articles
  • 250+ low carb recipes
  • Weekly meal plans
  • Community support