New Zealanders need to carve about six teaspoons of sugar out of our daily diets if we're to meet new international suggestions for avoiding obesity and rotten teeth.

Forgoing about three chocolate biscuits should do the trick, depending on size and sugar content.

The World Health Organisation has affirmed its advice that less than 10 per cent of energy should be consumed as added sugar, and has put in a new twist: a "conditional" recommendation of going below 5 per cent, for "additional health benefits".

Read more: The world must slash sugar intake - WHO report


Based on New Zealand's average energy intakes, 5 per cent is about nine teaspoons (35g) for men and six (23g) for women.

Current intakes of sucrose are about 15 teaspoons for men and 12 for women. Sucrose - table sugar - is the main part in the New Zealand diet of what the WHO calls added or free sugar.

A 355ml can of standard soft-drink contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, or about 40g.

"Added sugar" does not include sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables and naturally present in milk. The WHO says there is no reported evidence of ill effects from consuming these sugars.

It says higher intakes of sugar are linked to weight increase and tooth decay.

The WHO says its 10 per cent guideline is "strong", based on the research evidence. The 5 per cent advice is based on weaker evidence - a reduction in tooth decay after severe sugar shortages during World War II.

New Zealand's rate of adult obesity, 31.3 per cent, is the third highest of countries in the OECD.

Public health specialist Dr Simon Thornley, of the anti-soft-drink group FIZZ, considers the WHO's 10 per cent advice far too high.


"All the evidence I see is that sugar intake is associated with harm and we are not missing out on anything by going without sugar. The WHO has to compromise ... There is extreme political pressure to be relatively lax on sugar because a lot of their member countries are sugar producers."

He said switching to lower-sugar drinks like Coca-Cola Life - partially sweetened by stevia and scheduled for New Zealand release next month - would be a reasonable step, but non-sugar drinks were better.

His colleague Professor Boyd Swinburn said the Government should introduce a sugar tax to help reduce consumption, after indications that Mexico's levy on sugar-sweetened drinks has led to reduced intake.

The Government says it will not follow suit.

The NZ Beverage Council, representing soft-drink makers including Coca-Cola, said that by concentrating on one ingredient, the WHO would not achieve its health goals.

"We think what the WHO is trying to do is very admirable ... [but] the solution that they are promulgating is not the solution that we think will work."

Sugar: Cutting back

Men in NZ consume


teaspoons a day. That figure should be



NZ women consume


a day. For their health the figure should be