If you’ve ever spoken with your friends, acquaintances or family about wanting to start a diet then you have likely been told you cut all sugar. This little word is one of the most spoken about and sometimes controversial topics in fitness and nutrition. Almost everyone will have an opinion about it.
We thought we’d break it down for you and give you some information so you can make an informed decision about how you’re going to approach sugar in your life.
ADDED SUGAR VS NATURAL SUGAR
Sugar is a natural part of so many types of food, some that you might not even realise such as veggies, fruit, dairy products and even grains. Because these are natural foods, the sugars within them are bound by a complicated matrix of nutrients like vitamins, minerals, protein, fat and water.
When you hear the term ‘added sugar’ this is referencing a type of sugar that has been added to the food/drink while being processed. This is a sugar that is added beyond the level that is naturally occurring in that item. You’ll probably think of things such as honey or fruit juice when hearing the term ‘added sugar’ and often you might see labels that display ‘no added sugar’ as a marketing point, referencing that the item did not have any additional sugar added during it’s processing and that any of the sugar listed is naturally occurring. Added sugar is very energy dense and lacks nutrients.
Over-consuming too much added sugar is directly linked with a poor quality diet, elevated triglycerides and likely excess calorie consumption which will contribute to any weight gain and we all know by now that being overweight is a high-risk factor in a number of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and even some forms of cancer.
It is always important to consume only the calories you really need on a day-to-day basis. Excessive calorie consumption in any form can be quite problematic but it’s important to know that when you consume a diet that is rich in whole-foods containing naturally occurring sugar like fruit, veggies and whole grains, it does not have the same damaging effect on your body as eating processed food with high levels of added sugar. The natural food choices will actually slow down your risk of getting most health conditions.
HOW TO READ A LABEL
There are a few commonly seen terms you can see on the front of a label when you purchase something. It’s important to know what they really mean when you see certain terms being used as some are often a little sneaky and used for marketing a product rather than actually informing you about the product.
Low Sugar – There is actually no established definition of ‘low sugar’ so if a label says this, it is still important to check out if the ingredients are as recognisable as possible and also look at the nutrient label to see how much sugar is in the product for yourself.
Sugar-Free – The term ‘sugar-free’ is only used where the food or drink has no more than 0.5g of sugar per 100g/100ml of food/drink. Keep in mind there are often some sneaky hidden sweeteners in a lot of products that do not have to be listed as actual sugar. It is up to you to decide if you’re happy to have these in your diet and learn how they might react with your body.
Reduced Sugar – When a product displays this it means that it contains 25% less sugar compared to its original item and its original serving size.
When you are learning to read your own food labels you’ll have to keep a lookout for some of the alternative names of ‘added sugar’ such as;
- Glucose, lactose, maltose, fructose, sucrose and most other ingredients that end with ‘ose’.
- Maple syrup
- Agave syrup
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Rice syrup
- Cane syrup
- Fruit-juice concentrate
It is important to try and keep your daily intake of sugar to below 50g (12 teaspoons). This includes natural and added sugar. If you would like to reduce your sugar intake you can try some of our suggestions below.
- Always read the label of what you’re eating. If some type of added sugar is one of the first ingredients then you should probably avoid the item as it is heavily sweetened.
- Swap sugar-filled drinks such as soft drink or energy drinks for sparkling water with added fruit or herbs to flavour.
- Opt for plain yoghurt, preferably greek, over flavoured yoghurts. You can add in your own fruit instead.
- Use condiments in moderation.
- Save processed sweets or desserts for special occasions, they will taste better!
- Try and include natural sugars as a sweetener in homemade recipes over traditional sugar. You’ll surprised how well mashed banana or apple sauce works as a whole-food sweetener.