Carbohydrates should be the mainstay of our diet, providing around half of the energy we consume.
Sugars, starches and dietary fibre are all types of dietary carbohydrates and are principally found in cereals, grains, fruit, vegetables and starchy roots. Sugars and starches provide 4 calories per gram, whilst dietary fibre provides 2 calories per gram.
In 2015, a detailed review of ‘Carbohydrates and Health’ was published by the UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), providing guidance on the recommended amounts of carbohydrate in the diet, particularly sugars and fibre  .
Sugars are a group of simple carbohydrates (also called mono and di-saccharides) such as glucose, fructose, lactose, maltose and sucrose. Sugars are found naturally in fruit, vegetables and milk, and can also be added to a range of other foods to add flavour, texture, colour and mouth-feel to products. Cakes, biscuits, cereals, pastries, drinks and dairy products are some of the types of foods that may contain added sugars.
The SACN Report advised that no more than 5% of energy should come from ‘free sugars’ (sugars added to food in preparation plus sugars present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices) . Current intakes of ‘added sugars’ (similar to the new definition of free sugars) range from 15.2% of energy in 11-18 year olds to 11.1% in over 65’s.
The main sources of added sugars in adult diets are sugar, preserves and confectionery (26%), drinks (24%), and pastries, biscuits, cakes and puddings (17%). Breakfast cereals provide a smaller proportion of added sugars (5% in adults, 8% in younger 4-10 year olds) .
A wide range of breakfast cereals is available with a choice of sugar levels, including no added sugar, low sugar and sweetened cereals. Nutrition information on labels shows the amount of total sugars in a product per 100g, and per serving. Breakfast cereal manufacturers have undertaken a great deal of work reducing levels of sugar in cereals and are continually looking at ways to further reduce sugar levels, whilst still appealing to those who enjoy them.
Starches are longer chains of carbohydrate units that are broken down by the body to their composite smaller sugar units before being absorbed. Starches are principally found in cereals, grains and starchy carbohydrate foods such as potatoes. The SACN report concluded that there is no association between consumption of total starch and coronary events or type 2 diabetes .
Breakfast cereals provide a large proportion of starch based carbohydrate supporting the recommendation from SACN that free sugars ‘should be replaced by starches, sugars contained within the cellular structure of foods (e.g. whole fruits rather than juiced or puréed) and, for those who consume dairy products, by lactose naturally present in milk and milk products’.
 Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (2015) Carbohydrates and Health. The Stationery Office, London
 NatCen Social Research, MRC Human Nutrition Research, University College London. Medical School. (2016). NDNS results from years 5 and 6 combined of the rolling programme for 2012 and 2013 to 2013 and 2014: report. UK Data Service.