The Facts About Sugar
Do you ever find yourself tempted by the 3 o’clock chocolate fix? Or needing that little something sweet after dinner? Unfortunately, most Australian adults and children consume more sugar than recommended for a healthy balanced diet. When it comes to the health implications of sugar most of us hear about naturally-occurring sugars versus added sugars; but what is the difference?
Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). Added sugars (often called ‘simple sugars’) are found in a wide range of foods including sweets, cakes, biscuits, chocolates and some soft drinks and processed fruit juices.
Sugar provides an instant fuel source for our brains and active muscles, which means we shouldn’t be cutting it out of our diet completely. The aim of the game is to ensure you keep your sugar intake to a minimum, with a stronger focus on naturally occurring sugars.
The Sugar Process When sugar (glucose) enters your bloodstream your pancreas produces a hormone called insulin. Insulin transports glucose to the cells of your muscles, nerves and brain where it is burnt to produce energy. Any excess glucose is converted into glycogen, which is stored in your liver and muscle tissue for up to 24 hours; after this time it is converted into fat. This is why it is important to limit carbohydrate intake every day and spread consumption evenly over the day.
A high intake of ‘simple’ or added sugar causes our blood sugar levels to rapidly spike causing a momentary euphoric feeling only to be brought down by a swift slump which leaves us feeling tired, irritable and craving more sugar. Continuously exposing the body to high doses of simple sugars places the pancreas under significant stress and increases your risk of developing significant health issues such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. Many foods that contain added sugars also contain quite a few calories with very few nutrients. Eating these foods on a regular basis can often contribute to you becoming overweight or even obese.
The new recommendation from the World Health Organisation (WHO) is that only 5% of your daily calorie intake should consist of added sugars. This equates to approximately five-six teaspoons (25g) for women and seven-eight teaspoons (35g) for men. So how do we determine how much ‘hidden’ or ‘added’ sugar is in the products we are currently consuming? And, how can we go about reducing this?
Check the Nutrition Label
- Locate the nutrition information panel on the label of the product. Underneath carbohydrates it should detail how much of this comes from both natural and added sugars. If a product has less than 5g of sugar per 100g of the product this is considered ‘low’; more than 15g per 100g of the product is considered ‘high’.
- Check the ingredients list for anything ending in the suffix ‘ose’; these are all forms of sugar.
Spot the Hidden Sugar
- ‘low-fat’ and ‘diet’ foods often contain added sugar to improve their taste and palatability in exchange for reduction of fat content. Always check the nutrition label when purchasing these products.
How to Cut Down?
- Aim for water or unsweetened fruit juice instead of soft drink or processed fruit juice.
- Swap cakes or biscuits for a fresh piece of fruit.
- If you use sugar in your tea or coffee, gradually reduce the amount you add until you can cut it out altogether. Alternately, try using natural honey as a healthier substitute.
- Avoid ‘diet’ foods that tend to be higher in sugars. Instead, aim to have smaller portions of the regular versions or ask your dietitian for suitable low fat varieties of certain products.
- Always opt for the reduced sugar variety of a product if it is available.
- Choose fresh fruit. If buying tinned fruit, opt for fruit in juice or water rather than syrup.
- Swap all white or refined products for wholegrain versions and avoid breakfast cereals coated in sugar or honey.
- Where possible, make all sauces and marinades from scratch rather than relying on the premade supermarket varieties.
- Balance your carbohydrate intake with lean proteins like fish, chicken, beef and turkey to slow down digestion and improve satiety at meals.