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Sweet tooth prevails despite UK sugar tax

Despite the sugar tax introduced in 2018, sugar consumption has continued to rise in the UK.

In a recent study on worldwide tooth health, the UK ranked 6th on an overall scale. Upon analysis, the high ranking is largely down to our many dental schools, as we rank in the bottom 10 for sugar consumption, which is a big cause for concern. 

Despite the sugar tax introduced in 2018, sugar consumption has continued to rise in the UK. According to the NHS, consuming too much sugar can have two main adverse effects; weight gain and tooth decay. 

Tooth decay on the rise in the UK is the biggest worry for dentists and Spotlight Oral Care founders, Lisa and Vanessa, say it has become one of the biggest problems in recent years. Over 50% of adults in the UK have one or more damaged or decayed teeth.

Sugar causes the enamel on your teeth to break down. That says a lot about how powerful sugar is, as enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, even harder than bone. 

The UK’s main sugar sources are table sugar, soft drinks, fruit juice, condiments, breakfast cereals, and for adults, alcoholic drinks. The recommended daily sugar intake for each age group is: 

  • Aged 4-6 years = 19g (or 5 sugar cubes)
  • Aged 7-10 years = 24g (or 6 sugar cubes)
  • Aged 11+ years = 30g (or 7 sugar cubes) 

Sugary Snacks 

Sugary snacks come in many forms. While it might not always be that you are eating a chocolate bar or sweets, other less obviously sugary snacks like breakfast and energy bars can have large amounts of hidden sugars. A Nature Valley Oats & Honey Cereal Bar has a huge 42g of hidden sugars. Eating one of these bars far surpasses the adult daily allowance and is more than double the recommended amount for children aged 4-6 years. 


Ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, soy sauce, relish, brown sauce, sweet chilli sauce, the list goes on. In the UK, we absolutely love condiments, with Heinz even releasing bespoke ketchup filled chocolates for Valentine’s Day this year. Savoury foods are often not thought of as sugary, due to their taste. Though the hidden sugars inside condiments are what can be misleading. On average, 2tbsps of ketchup contains 8g of sugar, 2tbsps of BBQ sauce has 12g of sugar, and 2tbsps of teriyaki sauce has 14g of sugar. 

Fizzy Drinks

The biggest offender is fizzy drinks. In one can of Coca Cola, there is 33g of sugar. That is more than the average recommended adult intake. Similarly, Fanta Orange contains 45g of sugar, which equates to 11 teaspoons of sugar, and in a 16 fl oz can of Redbull, there is a massive 49g of sugar, which is 19g over the adult recommendation. Fizzy drinks are big tooth decay contributors as they also contain acids inside them that erode tooth enamel. As dentists, Spotlight Oral Care’s Lisa and Vanessa highly recommend avoiding fizzy drinks where possible.


The daily recommended sugar intake for adults is 30 grams, which is the amount of sugar in one bottle of red wine. Alcoholic drinks are many people’s greatest sugar contributors. A can of cider has a massive 23 grams of sugar, which is over four times the recommended intake.

Diane Cooke
Diane Cooke is a three times award-winning journalist who has worked for UK national/regional newspapers, magazines and websites.

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