The SACN report on carbohydrates and health – fibre is back on the table

31 July, 2015

Leatherhead Food Research comments on what the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition's (SACN) report “Carbohydrates and Health” means for the industry press Release from 17th July .

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) has published the final version of its “Carbohydrates and Health” report.  Leatherhead Food Research recognises the significance of the SACN report and its recommendations and the potential health benefits that it may bring for a large proportion of the UK population. 

The report presents several challenges. Firstly, from a public health perspective the guidelines must be clear and understandable for consumers such that they recognise what action they can take. This means that definitions and terminology will need to be understood and that on-pack communication should be aligned. Secondly, the recommendations present the food industry with further reformulation challenges alongside innovation and new product opportunities.

“The SACN report recommendations are part of a bigger picture to improve public health, no one aspect of the diet, be it free sugars or fibre can make a significant difference alone. The findings of the report will be a challenge for both consumers and industry alike.” - Jenny Arthur as Director of Nutrition & Innovation.

What does the SACN report mean for the Food Industry?

The recommendations that SACN were likely to make have been known for some time, yet the challenges that will be faced by consumers and by industry are more apparent than ever. The SACN recommendations are just one part of a complex and multi-dimensional public health matrix and whilst the clarity of the recommendations for intakes of free sugars and fibre will be welcomed in some quarters, it has also made it clear that there is significant work to do before consumers can be expected to act on the information.

The role that the food industry can play in reformulating and innovating will be a part of the solution but there will need to be more collective focus on the following points:

  • Helping consumers to understand the distinction between free sugars and total sugars.
  • Recognition that on-pack communication on sugars in the EU is not currently aligned with the SACN recommendation and that a regulated solution will take time to resolve.
  • Support and encouragement for consumers to move directionally towards a diet that is higher in fibre.
  • Continued innovation within existing products and via new products to help consumers meet the recommendations of the report.

What are some of the challenges faced by the industry when reformulating products to reduce sugar levels?

The challenge in reducing total sugar levels is that sugars added to products not only provide sweetness, but also bulk and other important functional properties, including a preservative function in many products.

The replacement of sugar with alternatives has to be carried out in an intelligent manner with a good understanding of the impact on product structure, sensory quality and shelf life.  Advances in sugar replacers continue and provide industry with different options for sugar replacement.

The recommendations of the report in brief were:


  • The SACN report has removed the previous term ‘Non milk extrinsic sugars’ and replaced it with  the term free sugars. These are sugars added to foods by manufacturers, cooks or consumers, plus sugar naturally found in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juice. The definition of free sugars  excludes milk sugars, naturally found in milk and sugars contained in cell walls, for example  in whole fruit.
  • The report recommends that free sugars should make up 5% of dietary energy intake for those over 2 years of age. This is half the current recommended intake.  This equates to a reduction from 200 kcal (12.5 teaspoons or 50g) to 100 kcal (6.25 teaspoons or 25g) of total energy intake from free sugars, based on daily reference intake 2,000 kcal for an average woman.
  • The report gives advice for adults and children to drink fewer sugar-sweetened beverages.


The SACN report’s recommendation to increase fibre intakes is a significant move that will be equally challenging for consumers. The report makes the following recommendations:

  • Dietary fibre is to be chemically determined using the Association of Official Analytical Chemists method (AOAC) 2009.01. Previously the Englyst (NSP) method has been used. 
  • Recommended intake of dietary fibre has been increased to 30g/day (AOAC) for adults from 23g/day (AOAC) an increase of 7g of fibre. This is equivalent to 2 slices of thick wholemeal bread. 
  • For children 2 to 5years the SACN recommendation is 15g day, for children 5 to 10 years 20g/day, for children 11 to 16 years 25g/day and for children 16 to 18 years 30g/day.

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