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Sugar consumption and health problems

Infographic sugars

Sugars are a source of energy. Some types of sugar (e.g. glucose) are needed by organs such as the heart and brain to function properly. Carbohydrates in starchy foods can be used as a source of glucose by the body.

Sugar consumption is known to cause dental caries. Also, excess sugars in the diet are stored in the body for example as fat for later use. If these stores are not used, they can build up over time and lead to health problems.

Total sugars can be divided into sub-categories

Total sugars include:

  • sugars: naturally present in milk, fruits, vegetables
  • free sugars: added as refined sugars, or naturally present in honey, syrup, fruit and vegetable juices and juice concentrates

EFSA's role

YES: In the area of nutrition EFSA provides advice to public health authorities based on scientific evidence. 5 European countries asked EFSA to set a science-based tolerable upper intake level for dietary sugars from all sources.

NO: EFSA doesn't make policy recommendations or set public health guidelines. EFSA was not asked to recommend how much sugar consumers should include in their diet - this is a task for national authorities for public health supported by international bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO).

What does our opinion say

The scientific evidence SUPPORTS RECOMMENDATIONS in Europe to limit the intake of added and free sugars. EFSA’s scientists consider it should be AS LOW AS POSSIBLE, in line with a nutritionally adequate diet.

It is NOT POSSIBLE to set a science-based Tolerable Upper Intake Level for sugars. However, EFSA's scientists confirmed the links - to varying degrees of certainty - between sugars and a range of health problems (see below).

National authorities and WHO RECOMMEND LIMITING consumption of added and free sugars from different foods. They can do so by establishing a target for sugars intake based on the HIGHEST POSSIBLE health benet and in the context of NATIONAL DIETS.

Main sources of added and free sugars in the diet

  • Adults: 100% juice, bakery, sugars, juice/ concentrate, sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets
  • Children up to 18 years of age: sweetened milk/ dairy

Consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages have intakes of added/free sugars higher than consumers of any other food group in most European countries and age groups.

Links between intake of sugars and health problems

Sugar and their sourcesMetabolic diseasesPregnancy-relatedDental caries
Added and free sugarsObesity, liver disease, type 2 diabetes, high bad cholesterol, hypertension-Total sugars
FructoseCardiovascular disease, gout-
Sugar-sweetened beveragesObesity, liver disease, type 2 diabetes, high bad cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, gout, hypertensionDiabetes in pregnancy
Small infant
Fruit juices and nectarsObesity, type 2 diabetes, gout-
Sweets, cakes, and desserts, other sweetened beverages, including sweetened milk and milkshakes, yogurtsAll could be signicant contributors to the intake of added and free sugars


Find out more about the conclusions in our summary for consumers – “Scientific opinion on a tolerable upper intake level for dietary sugars” (available in English only).

EFSA is the keystone of EU risk assessment regarding food and feed safety. In close collaboration with national authorities in open consultation with its stakeholders, EFSA provides independent scientific advice and clear communication on existing and emerging risks.