The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), a committee of independent experts was requested by the government to provide clarification of the relationship between dietary carbohydrate and health and make public health recommendations.

To achieve this they reviewed:

  • the evidence for a role of dietary carbohydrate in colorectal health in adults and in childhood;
  • the evidence on dietary carbohydrate and cardio-metabolic health (including cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, glycaemic response and obesity);
  • the evidence in respect to dietary carbohydrates and oral health;
  • the terminology, classification and definitions of types of carbohydrates in the diet.

SACN published its report Carbohydrates and Health in 2015, with new recommendations including 5% of total dietary energy from free sugars and 30g of fibre per day.

Public Health England has published a summary document Why 5% that  provides a simple explanation of the rationale and science behind the report, summarising some of the key findings in relation to the sugars dietary recommendation.

To help put the recommendations in context, BNF has developed a number of resources which can be found as attachments below.

These include:-

  • a 7-day meal plan that shows one approach to meeting the new and existing dietary recommendations
  • factsheets on fibre and free sugars and health
  • a resource for consumers entitled Exploring sugars in the foods we buy 

BNF 7 day meal plan 

In a recent poll amongst visitors to the BNF website, respondents suggested that a clearer understanding of which foods make the largest contribution to our intake of free sugars, alongside practical dietary tips suggesting alternatives to foods high in sugar, would be most useful for helping people to reduce their intakes.

To this end, and to help consumer understanding and applicability of the new SACN recommendations, BNF undertook some simple dietary modelling to develop a 7-day meal plan. This illustrates, in practice, what a diet that meets the new recommendations of 5% free sugars and 30g AOAC fibre may look like for adults. The plan was also modelled to meet energy, other macronutrient and micronutrient recommendations over the week, including contributing less than 6 g salt per day, less than 10% of total energy as saturated fatty acids and meeting the food labelling reference intake for total sugars (90 g for adults). It also meets all the current food-based guidelines, such as 5-A-Day and the inclusion of at least one portion of oil-rich fish over the week.

Our simple dietary modelling illustrates just one approach to achieving the targets but has demonstrated that the new SACN recommendations for dietary fibre and free sugars are achievable through a balanced, healthy diet featuring:

  • meals based around starchy foods (mostly wholegrain varieties);
  • around eight portions of fruit and vegetables daily;
  • water, lower fat milk, unsweetened tea and coffee and ‘no-calorie’, ‘diet’, ‘sugar-free’ or ‘no-added’ sugar carbonated drinks and squashes;
  • fibre-rich snacks (including nuts and seeds);
  • occasional snacks/desserts with added sugars;
  • very few foods high in fat and sugar (either as part of meals or as snacks);
  • regular inclusion of lower salt options and use of unsaturated oils (such as rapeseed, olive or sunflower oil) for cooking and dressings;
  • low fat spreads, high in unsaturated fats, and lower fat dairy products.

Many of the meals in our weekly plan are typical of meals cooked or prepared at home, using a mix of fresh and processed ingredients. Items such as ready-made sauces were used in recipes, as well as some prepared foods such as pizza and cartons of soup (for ease of modelling, we did not attempt to develop a plan with greater reliance on pre-prepared meals).

Although feasible in the context of other dietary guidelines for energy, protein, carbohydrates and fats, as well as vitamin and minerals, this dietary pattern is not typical of that of most people in the UK. Achieving the new and tougher SACN recommendations will, therefore, be a considerable challenge, and require a substantial change in consumer behaviour. Co-operation and collaboration will be required from many stakeholders, including the food industry, health professionals, policy makers and regulatory bodies to raise awareness of sources of free sugars and the benefits and sources of dietary fibre. Innovative food solutions from manufacturers and retailers may also be needed to help consumers adopt dietary patterns to meet these goals.

Approximate free sugars content of foods that commonly contribute to free sugars intake of UK adults
  Free sugars per 100g or 100ml Portion size Free sugars (per portion)
Cream sandwich biscuits 31g 15g biscuit 4.7g
Digestive biscuit 17.7g 15g biscuit 2.7g
Lemon cake with icing or buttercream 42.5g 50g slice 21.3g
Chocolate cake no filling or icing 29.6g 50g slice 14.8g
Milk chocolate 46.7g 25g 11.7g
Orange juice 8.6g 150ml 12.9g
Lemonade 8.3g 330ml can 27.4g
Fruit squash 47.5g 50ml 23.8g
Fruit yogurt 9g 125g pot 11.25g
Honey 75.5g 20g (average spread on 1 slice of bread) 15.1g
Table sugar 100g 4g teaspoon 4g 

Data taken from McCance and Widdowson, National Diet and Nutrition Survey dietary information and retail data


BNF has produced a poster resource Putting new recommendations into practice: A meal plan to illustrate what 5% free sugars and 30g fibre might look like, based on its simple dietary modelling conducted to show one example of how the new SACN recommendations for dietary fibre and free sugars are achievable through a healthy, balanced diet, whilst meeting other dietary recommendations. This can be found attached below.