Dietary sources of sugars in adolescents' diet: the HELENA study

Eur J Nutr. 2018 Mar;57(2):629-641. doi: 10.1007/s00394-016-1349-z. Epub 2016 Nov 29.


Objective: To report dietary sugars consumption and their different types and food sources, in European adolescents.

Methods: Food consumption data of selected groups were obtained from 1630 adolescents (45.6% males, 12.5-17.5 years) from the HELENA study using two nonconsecutive 24-h recalls. Energy intake, total sugars and free sugars were assessed using the HELENA-DIAT software. Multiple regression analyses were performed adjusting for relevant confounders.

Results: Total sugars intake (137.5 g/day) represented 23.6% and free sugars (110.1 g/day), 19% of energy intake. Girls had significantly lower intakes of energy, carbohydrates, total sugars and free sugars. 94% of adolescents had a consumption of free sugars above 10% of total energy intake. The main food contributor to free sugars was 'carbonated, soft and isotonic drinks,' followed by 'non-chocolate confectionary' and 'sugar, honey, jam and syrup.' Older boys and girls had significantly higher intakes of free sugars from 'cakes, pies and biscuits.' Free sugars intake was negatively associated with low socioeconomic status for 'non-chocolate confectionary' and 'sugar, honey and jam' groups; with low maternal educational level for carbonated and 'soft drinks,' 'sugar, honey and jam,' 'cakes and pies' and 'breakfast cereals' groups; and with high paternal educational level for 'carbonated and soft drinks' and 'chocolates' group.

Conclusions: The majority (94%) of studied adolescents consumed free sugars above 10% of daily energy intake. Our data indicate a broad variety in foods providing free sugars. Continued efforts are required at different levels to reduce the intake of free sugars, especially in families with a low educational level.

Keywords: Adolescents; Diet; Europe; Food sources; Free sugars.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development*
  • Adolescent Nutritional Physiological Phenomena* / ethnology
  • Candy
  • Carbonated Beverages
  • Condiments
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet* / ethnology
  • Dietary Sugars / administration & dosage*
  • Energy Intake / ethnology
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Regression Analysis
  • Self Report
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Socioeconomic Factors


  • Dietary Sugars