I’ve been wanting to write about the sugar for quite a while now. The dangers associated with excess sugar consumption are becoming more recognised by health bodies, the media and the general public alike. While the issue of sugar is receiving so much publicity, it’s still amazing how many people I have spoken to who, while seemingly knowledgeable and conscious when it comes to health are still confused about what giving up sugar actually means.
The initial responses is always to cut out the morning biscuit or the 3pm chocolate, or to finally stop adding sugar to your tea! While all of these efforts are great and will definitely help people lower their sugar intake, unfortunately the sugar issue we’re facing goes alot further than this.
So why is it such a confusing topic….?
There is so much information out there about the different types of sugar and the impact it can have on your body. Likewise, the arguments and research behind giving up sugar vary significantly depending on who you’re speaking to, dentist, nutritionist, psychologists, doctors…… Also for every article out there encouraging people to pay more attention to their diet, there is another poo pooing the newest health craze and saying that we are all actually in danger of become too health focused and doing damage to our bodies……. (look up orthorexia and you’ll see what I mean).
These articles really frustrate me! While I completely agree that becoming too obsessed with what you’re putting in your body can become dangerous (like any other eating disorder) I also think that 99% of the general population are so far from being in the danger zone for ‘clean eating’ that having more, readily accessible information out there about how to make better food choices can only be a good thing….. Shouldn’t we at least try to understand what we’re putting in our mouths……feeding our family….referring to as food?
So today I don’t want to go into the complex biology behind sugars and how they affect our body, I don’t want to have a debate about how the big corporations are profiting from our miss-education…..all I want to do is try to give you my simple guideline to lowering your sugar intake and more importantly increasing your awareness of where most of your dietary sugar may be hiding.
Before we get started though I think it’s important to understand how much sugar you should actually be consuming…….
How much sugar is too much sugar?
The 2015-2020 dietary guidelines in the US has recommended that people consume no more than 10% of their calories from ‘free’ sugar- this is equivalent to approximately 12 teaspoons for men and 10 teaspoons for women.
The UK sugar guidelines recommend only 5% of your calories come from ‘free’ sugar, approximately 7 teaspoons.
To help put this in real terms, 1 teaspoon of sugar = approximately 4 grams.
So going off the UK guidelines we are talking about 30g of ‘free’ sugar per day as an absolute maximum but many health experts are actually recommending 5 teaspoons as a healthier target which equals 20 grams of sugar per day.
So what are free sugars?
According to the British National Health Service (NHS), ‘free’ sugars refer to any sugars that are added to our food or drinks or found naturally in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices. While the latter are still ‘natural’ sugars, they have generally been processed in such a way that has removed a number of the valuable nutrients and more importantly, all of the fibre which is essential for lowering the absorption of sugar into the body.
So now we have clarified the how much and the what……here is my personal guide to sugar, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
The Good- Fruits, Vegetables, Legumes and Dairy
I personally don’t believe people should be too concerned with eating natural unprocessed sugars. Yes, fruit and vegetables contain fructose and they do still add to your daily sugar intake, but they also contain a combination of valuable vitamins and, most importantly, fibre that affects the way the sugar is digested and also its impact on your body. The fibre and water content in fruit and veg also make them very filling and quite hard to over eat. The sugar in fruit and veg is not ‘free’ sugar and therefore, I believe, doesn’t need to be included in your daily sugar count above.
The Bad- Chocolate, Cakes, Soda…… the usual culprits.
While I absolutely agree that these ‘foods’ should be limited in your diet, I also believe that when people eat these snacks they are aware they are eating something sweet and are more conscious of the sugar content.
Generally when people decide to give up sugar these are the first to go and If you are looking out for your health and trying to cut back on sugar, decreasing these really should be a no brainer. Saying that, if you feel like some dark chocolate or the occasional ice cream, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just be aware that these are not ‘foods’ as such, they should not be eaten as a substitute for a healthy meal. They may give you calories but they lack nutrients and will therefore either lead to over eating or malnourishment. I also promise you that if you lower your sugar consumption to the recommended daily intake, most sugary snack food will actually start to taste almost unbearably sweet!
To give you an idea about just how much sugar is in a serve of some of our treat ‘foods’, see below:
Starburst packet (45 grams) 5.5 teaspoons of sugar 110% daily allowance
Milk chocolate bar (44g) 5.75 teaspoons of sugar 115% daily allowance
M&Ms packet (45 grams) 5.75 teaspoons of sugar 115% daily allowance
Snickers bar (57g) 7 teaspoons of sugar 140% daily allowance
Milky Way bar (58g) 8.5 teaspoons of sugar 170% daily allowance
So as you can see from the above, consuming chocolate and sweets will almost immediately take you over your recommended sugar intake without even eating 1 serving size, so imagine just how much is in that family sized bag….
If you make the decision to have something sweet, make sure you decide on a portion you’re happy with that and stick to it. Put the rest away, it’s not going anywhere and to be honest, I always think the first square of chocolate is the best anyway.
I debated putting fizzy drink in the ugly category as regardless of the sugar content they tend to be so full of other nasty chemicals and undesirables that they should probably actually sit in a poison category….. If you drink fizzy drink on a daily basis this is your first goal…… stop it…..cut back to one or two cans a week and then if possible down to zero. They are like a nuclear waste explosion on the town that is your health and in my books should be avoided at all costs!!!!
If however it is only the sugar you’re really concerned about…..see below.
Coke (355ml can) 9.75 teaspoons of sugar 195% daily allowance
Mountain Dew (590 ml Bottle) 19.25 teaspoons of sugar 385% daily allowance
And finally- The Ugly……
The foods in my ugly category are there because I believe they are the most dangerous sugars of all- the hidden sugars. These are the foods that are categorised as either savory or healthy foods and these are the ones that can trip up even the most well intended eater. They are not treated as occasional treats but staples in an everyday diet and these, I believe, are the foods you need to focus on if you are seriously looking to cut back on sugar.
Hopefully by now people are getting used to the fact that most breakfast cereals should in fact sit in the not ‘foods’ or ‘treats’ category above due to the amount of sugar in them. Even All Bran which to most would probably be considered one of the healthiest choices out there, has 50% of your daily recommended sugar in one 50g serve, the worst offenders have up to 150% in one serve…..and honestly who ever really sticks to the 50g serve when it come to cereal….
There are a few ok options out there so if you really can’t go past your breakfast cereal in the morning, you just need to know what these are…
I found an oldy but a goodie online that summarises the sugar content in teaspoons and percentages of some of our best known Australian brands. http://www.howmuchsugar.com/resources/Documents/atp.pdf
I also recommend looking at https://iquitsugar.com/low-sugar-cereals/ for some of the best options for yourself and your family.
Low Fat & Fruit Yogurts…..
Sticking with the breakfast theme as this is perhaps the most vulnerable time of the day for sugar intake, next we have our yogurts. With the demonisation of all fats over the past 20 or so years, the new low fat food revolution took hold! Everything you could think of became available in low fat versions. Problem was, to ensure these foods still tasted yummy after the fat was removed, companies started to up the sugar. So as a general rule of thumb, if it’s low fat it will be higher sugar.
Chobani, which is considered one of the newest, healthiest options contains 16g of sugar per serving! That’s 4 teaspoons of sugar in each serving and 80% of your daily recommended intake!
Yoplait, another family favourite has around 23g of sugar per serve. That’s 5.75 teaspoons of sugar in a single serve, 115% of your recommended intake.
Activia is another brand that has been touted as the healthy option for families. It also has 16g of sugar per serve, 4 teaspoons of sugar in each serving and 80% of your daily recommended intake!
If you enjoy yogurt, which I personally do, greek yogurts and natural yogurts are by far the best choice, they have all of the benefits of yogurt with no added sugars. If you want to add a sweetness to them go for fresh or frozen berries, and don’t be afraid of full fat natural yogurt, it is healthy, creamy, delicious and filling!
So hopefully you can see from the above examples, some of the foods we consider healthy are actually filled with added sugars, and we haven’t even finished breakfast yet.
Some of the other offenders that are generally considered healthy but contain a surprising amount of sugar:
Breakfast drinks and breakfast bars….
Up and Go for example has three types of added sugar including cane sugar, fructose and corn syrup and contains a whopping 19 g of sugar per serve.
Smoothies and Fruit Juices and health drinks….
Vitamin water, which admittedly has been one of my favourites in the past can have up to 77g of sugar (19 teaspoons) in one bottle!
Smoothies bars have popped up everywhere in the past 15 years and are generally seen as a healthy option when it comes to a snack. While they do contain vitamins, most juices and smoothies pack up to 70 grams of sugar per serve and should be consumed sparingly (and in kids servings size only).
There is around a teaspoon of sugar in every tablespoon of tomato sauce; chilli and BBQ sauce containing even more. Like with the yogurts above, low fat salad dressings often include sugar as one of their top 3 ingredients to replace the flavour that’s been lost by removing the fats.
And the list goes on…..Pasta sauces…..Bread……Baked Beans……Muesli Bars….. Protein Bars……Lunch box snacks…… if it’s been processed, it’s extremely likely it’s had sugar added to it.
So what’s my point….
I believe we should be accountable for our own health and make more educated choices about what we’re putting in our bodies. We shouldn’t trust the packaging when it tells us something is low fat, natural, low sugar…….it may be……but compared to what…?
It can sometimes be difficult to decipher the labels and work out what the serving size is but I find the following guide helpful:
If something contains less than 5 grams of sugar per 100 grams it is in the low sugar range and therefore a good choice, if a product lists sugar in the first 3 ingredients, it is probably worth avoiding.
If you really can’t be bothered reading labels then an even better option, don’t buy anything with a label. Stick to single ingredient, natural whole food and then you won’t have to worry about any added ingredients!
Over the upcoming months I’m going to start posting some recipes for healthy home cooked versions of some normally sugar filled family favourites; baked beans, tomato sauce, protein bars and pasta sauces to name a few. In the meantime if you’re interested in reading further there are also some great resources out there to get you started….
Some blogs, movies, articles authors I recommend reading/watching….…..
Happy Reading. xx