Reducing Sugar Intake
Reducing our sugar intake is vital to good health, we are still consuming too much sugar. Sugar is an ingredient in many of our foods and drinks and sometimes listed under other names such as fructose, maltose, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, high juice fruit concentrate, nectars, cane sugar, honey and glucose solids. Although sugar can play an important part such as improving taste and texture, improving the appearance and extending the shelf life, too much is a bad thing.
There are two types of sugar – naturally occurring sugar like lactose in milk and added or ‘free’ sugars, which include table sugar (sucrose) as well as concentrated sources like fruit juice and its these ‘free sugars’ which are any sugars added to food or drinks, or found naturally in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices which we are being advised to cut back on.
It is recommended that only 5% of our daily calorie intake should consist of added, or ‘free’ sugars. This equates to approximately seven sugar cubes (30g), children should have less – no more than 19g a day for children aged 4 to 6 years old (5 sugar cubes), and no more than 24g (6 sugar cubes) for children aged 7 to 10 years old.
Added sugars (like sucrose and high fructose corn syrup) contain a whole bunch of calories with NO essential nutrients, they are empty calories, there are no proteins, essential fats, vitamins or minerals in sugar, just pure energy. The instant ‘lift’ we get from sugar is one of the reasons we turn to it at times of celebration or when we crave comfort or reward. But it’s not all bad news – sugar is a carbohydrate found naturally in a host of different foods from lactose in milk to the fructose in fruit and honey and if you’re very active and exercise regularly some sugar in your diet helps supply ready energy to fuel your muscles and keep your brain active.
However, we may be eating more than we realise because so many everyday processed foods, from cereals and bread to pasta sauce and soups contain sugar which supplies energy in the form of calories, and very little else – so we end up consuming more than we need. This means our body has to draw on the nutrients from the rest of our diet to process the sugar and this can affect our health, including our immunity – leaving us more prone to bugs and colds. A high intake of sugar causes our blood sugar levels to shoot up, giving us that feel-good ‘high’ followed by a crashing slump which leaves us tired, irritable and craving more sugary foods. It’s a vicious cycle that may be contributing to our weight problems as well as health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Before sugar enters the bloodstream from the digestive tract, it is broken down into two simple sugars, glucose and fructose. If we don’t get it from the diet, our bodies produce glucose, but fructose is different as our bodies do not produce it in any significant amount and there is no physiological need for it. It is not a problem if we eat a little bit, such as from fruit or we just finished an exercise session, the fructose will be turned into glycogen and stored in the liver until we need it. However, if the liver is full of glycogen which is often the case, eating a lot of fructose overloads the liver, forcing it to turn the fructose into fat. So by repeatedly eating large amounts of sugar, this process can lead to fatty liver and all sorts of serious problems. People who are healthy and active are able to tolerate more sugar than people who are inactive.
Insulin allows glucose (blood sugar) to enter cells from the bloodstream and tells the cells to start burning glucose instead of fat. By having too much glucose in the blood can lead to diseases including metabolic syndrome, obesity, cardiovascular disease and especially type II diabetes.
Research has shown a link between sugar consumption and obesity and found it is especially strong in children. Not surprisingly, people who consume the most sugar are by far the most likely to become overweight or obese. One of the most important things you can do if you need to lose weight is to significantly cut back on sugar consumption. Remember sugar can be addictive for a lot of people and when addicted you can lose control over your consumption.
So be vigilant when shopping try to avoid low-fat and ‘diet’ foods as they often contain extra sugar to help improve their taste and palatability and to add bulk and texture in the place of fat, it is better to have smaller portions of the regular version. Even savoury foods, like ready-made soups and sauces may contain added sugar. If possible it is better to avoid the pre packed ready meals altogether and make something from scratch as you will know exactly what has gone into it.
A can of soft drink, on average, contains the equivalent of seven teaspoons of sugar. Water contains no sugar! You could always add a slice of orange, lemon or lime to give a bit of flavour. Fruit juice should be limited and even watered down. Try to reduce the sugar you add to hot drinks doing it gradually to give your taste buds time to adjust.
Foods labelled ‘sugar free’ often contain synthetic sweeteners like sucralose, saccharin and aspartame. Although these taste sweet, they don’t help curb a sweet tooth so they tend to send confusing messages to the brain, which can lead to over-eating.
Try swapping white bread, rice and pasta for wholegrain versions like oats, granary and wholemeal breads, brown rice and pasta.
By balancing your carb intake with lean protein like fish, chicken and turkey – protein foods slow stomach emptying, you could help manage cravings. For a pick me up, try a piece of whole fruit with a handful of nuts or a small tub of plain yogurt, both contain protein which helps balance blood sugar and energy levels.