The truth about sugar

The truth about sugar

Obesity is increasing globally at an alarming rate and sugar has been identified as one of the factors causing this health crisis. Despite the fact that, over the last few decades, our dietary intake of sugar has actually decreased, many of us are are still consuming way too much, and soft drinks are the largest single source of sugar consumption for school-age children. 

So why is there so much focus on sugar, and are all sugars bad sugars?

How much sugar should we eat?

The World Health Organisation and the UK Government recommend that our free sugar (added sugars) intake should make up no more than 5% of our total daily calorie intake – this equates to 30g of free sugar for adults (11 years and older).

Are all sugars the same?

There are two types of sugar: ‘naturally occurring sugars’ found in fruit and lactose in milk, and ‘free sugars’, which include any sugars added to food and drinks, as well as that in table sugar (sucrose) and those found naturally in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. ‘Free sugars’ are the sugars that many of us need to cut down on.

How do I know if my food contains natural or free sugars?

It might come as a surprise, but most food actually contains certain sugars. Sugars are carbohydrates, and are found naturally in fruit, vegetables, potatoes, milk, rice, as well as processed foods such as cereals, bread, pasta and sauces; plus the obvious culprits – soft drinks, desserts, confectionary, biscuits, cakes and jams. Therefore, to find out if your food contains natural or added sugars, it is best to read the ingredients and nutrition table on the packaging.

How do I recognise sugar on food labels?

Sugar is not always labelled as ‘sugar’ on the label. Other forms of sugar include: honey, corn syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, dextrose, malt syrup, fruit juice concentrates, agave and molasses.

Tips for reading food labels:

  • Look at the ‘of which sugars’ section on the nutrition panel to get an idea of how much sugar the product contains. But be aware that the figure stated here includes both naturally occurring and added sugars – there is currently no differentiation between natural and free sugars on food labels.
  • Look out for ingredients that have ‘ose’ at the end: glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, dextrose and maltose – these are all forms of added sugars. Remember to also to look out for honey, corn syrup, raw sugar, malt syrup, fruit juice concentrates, agave or molasses.
  • Check the ingredients list. The higher up the list sugar appears, the more sugar the product contains.

How to reduce your sugar intake

  • Try switching to water instead of carbonated sugary drinks to keep hydrated. Why not give these quick and easy flavoured water ideas a go
  • This might sound simple, but it works: don’t buy or keep sugary drinks in the house. Save them for a treat or special occasion.
  • Choose homemade porridge or toast with eggs for breakfast instead of shop-bought cereals.
  • Try to avoid low-fat foods as they tend to be higher in sugars. You can go for the real thing – just have smaller portions.
  • Save your favourite treat for the weekend or a special occasion.
  • Why not try having half a spoon less sugar in your tea or coffee? Once you get used to it, you can gradually decrease the amount further.
  • If you fancy something sweet, try having a piece of fruit with yoghurt, or some dried fruit with nuts. Doing this will add to your fruit intake for the day, as well as boost your nutrient and fibre intake.

The key thing to remember is that eating healthily is all about balance. The majority of our diet should be made up of balanced, nutritious foods based on the government’s Eatwell Guide, and indulgent foods, such as those high in sugars, should be enjoyed occasionally and as special treats, rather than every day.

  • Tips for cutting back on your sugar intake
  • Switch the sugary drinks out for some good old fashioned water 
  • Limit fruit juice to 150ml portions or dilute it with water. 
  • Try to opt for whole fruit and veg instead of juices as they contain extra fibre that is removed during juicing
  • Cut back on the snacks or switch the sweet treats for healthier options, swap a pudding out for something like fresh fruit and yoghurt as a way to cut back on sugar
  • Make your own breakfast – avoid the sugary cereals and make some of your own at home instead

Article reposted from the Food Revolution.

Image: Daria Ratiner

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