Thanks to everyone who completed our recent survey asking about the extra nutrient tracking we've added to the service. From your feedback, it is clear it has raised a few questions – especially around some of the targets and what this means for you. So I've addressed below the top 3 questions that have come up.
In short – no. Sugar is a tricky nutrient to track because there is no way to distinguish between added sugars and those naturally occurring in things like fruit and milk. This is because current UK labelling laws don't require manufacturers to split out these types of sugars in the nutrition panel. But eating sugars from natural sources is not the same as eating lots of added sugars.
At present, the official guideline for sugar intake is only for added sugars – to reduce these from 10% of our total energy, to 5%.
In a perfect world, food packaging should show how much sugar is from natural sources and how much has been added to the product, but unfortunately it doesn't, and the recommended intake on UK food labels is still set for total sugars. The amount is 90g per day based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet – which equates to 18% of daily energy coming from sugar. This is the figure we use for our Well Balanced nutrient guide.
However – I would just highlight that this 90g figure is based on 2,000 calories a day and many of you are on a reduced calorie intake, so eating less than this. This does make the sugar target more challenging as 18% of 1,400 calories is 63g total sugar per day – a third less.
I appreciate it can be off-putting to see you have gone over the target set for you, but what you need to be most concerned about is the source of sugar in your diet. This is what I'd advise:
In terms of weight loss – yes. The most important factor is your overall calorie intake, so as long as your calories are within your allowance then you should be on track. But in terms of health, whether or not you need to try and reach this amount each day, really depends on the nutrient in question – as this differs.
Fat, saturated fat and salt
These are the nutrients you should be most concerned with staying on track with. Your targets for these are upper limits, so you should aim not to exceed these each day. Overconsumption of saturated fat has been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, while too much salt can lead to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
Total fat is a little more tricky, as the type of fat you're eating plays a part. Fat is the most energy dense nutrient at 9kcals per gram, so watching our total intake is important for keeping calories in check. However in terms of health, unsaturated fats can be beneficial. These are found in foods like oily fish, avocado, nuts and olive oil. If you find you go over your total fat intake for the day, but a large proportion is from these healthy sources – then don't be too concerned.
Carbohydrates and protein
Your allowances for these nutrients are guideline amounts for the general population. Eating around the level advised should ensure you get a good balance of the nutrients you need. However, eating a little above or below these guidelines is not of huge concern. However if you are going vastly over your carbohydrate allowance for example, the main concern is that the overall balance of other nutrients in your diet – so protein and fat – wouldn't be optimal. So it's helpful to stay within the levels recommended for you, but it's not a huge health concern if you go over either.
In terms of protein, this is important for many functions in the body, so it's important we get enough each day. Many people find they eat over their protein target amount quite easily, as we do tend to eat more protein than we essentially need. This is absolutely fine up to a point, but an excessive intake over a long period of time can be harmful – but you would need to be eating over double your allowance for a significant length of time for this to be a concern.Â If you're going over a little, don't worry.
This is a maximum amount like fat and saturated fat – so it's fine if you don't eat all of this. As explained above, if you eat lots of fruits, vegetables and milk based foods, you may find that you reach your sugar guide amount quite easily. But foods containing naturally occurring sugars aren't the ones to worry about. It's the foods such as chocolate, cakes, biscuits and desserts with lots of added sugars that we need to try and reduce. So limit your intake of these foods to stay close to your sugar allowance if these are the reason for going over.
Your target for fibre, unlike some other nutrients, is a minimum you should try and aim for. It's recommended we aim for 30g of fibre per day for a healthy balanced diet, but having more is great. So ideally you want to see your bar green and at or over the 100% mark. That said, some fibre is better than none, so try using your chart to see how you're doing each day and aim to increase this gradually if necessary.
To note, some people can't have much fibre for medical reasons - in which case you do have the option to set your target to anything you like using the Set My Own option.
For members who are interested in focusing on a specific nutrient, we have put together 5 nutrient guides to help – Well Balanced, Lower Carb, Less Sugar, Higher Protein and Lower Fat – as well as the option to set your own targets. These have been created by our nutritionists, with targets set to increase or reduce a specific nutrient.
While we don't believe in cutting out or hugely restricting entire food groups, adjusting the nutrient breakdown of your diet a little is absolutely fine. The targets set are still within healthy limits.
Well Balanced – this guide is the one we recommend for everyone. The nutrient breakdown is based on the guidelines for a healthy balanced diet: 50% carbs, 15% protein, 35% fat (and within this 11% sat fats, 18% total sugars and 6g salt).
Lower Carb – this guide offers a moderate reduction in carbs with a matched increase in protein. This is for anyone who feels that eating fewer carbs helps them stick to their calorie allowance better.
Less Sugar – this guide takes a strict approach with sugar, reducing your total sugars allowance to just 12%. This is for anyone who essentially wants to eliminate added sugars from their diet and only have sugars from natural sources.
Higher Protein – this guide offers a higher protein intake with a matched reduction in carbs. This is useful for people wanting to up their protein in order to help them stick to their calorie allowance. Protein has been shown to be more satiating than carbohydrates for example, so it can be helpful to eat more when trying to lose weight.
Lower Fat – this guide offers a moderate reduction in total fat. This approach can help some people stick to their total calorie allowance easier, as fat is the most energy dense nutrient – so reducing it has a bigger effect on reducing your total calorie intake.
5:2 Diet – Also called the 'Fast Diet'. This intermittent fasting diet lets you eat normally for 5 days and restrict calories on 2 days each week.You can choose to follow the original plan which allows 500 or 600 calories on fasting days for women and men respectively. Or you can follow the more recent guidance from the diet's creator, to have 800 calories on fasting days.
Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.