Take control of the sugar in your diet

Reading some health magazines you might think you should cut out all sugar from your diet.  This is not the case.  All sugars are not equal and some play an important part in a balanced diet.

Why sugar is important

Your body needs some sugar.  Carbohydrates and sugar break down into glucose. Red blood cells and the brain use glucose for energy so a certain amount of carbohydrate intake is necessary for normal brain and bodily functions. 

Some healthy food like fruits and vegetables contain sugar and should not be cut out of your diet, it seems that these foods do not give you a ‘sugar spike’, that high and then the low that makes you want more sugar.   

Eating too much sugar is without question bad for us.  There are a number of conditions that are linked to weight gain (a consequence of too much sugar), including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and tooth decay.  Interestingly, a high sugar intake is also linked to increased appetite.

What sugar to avoid/cut down on

It is best to avoid or cut down on the harmful sugar, or ‘added sugar’ as it is referred to here, with little nutritional value is found in processed food. 

You may not think you consume much processed food in your diet but you will be surprised about how much ‘hidden’ sugar is in everyday foods.  The only way you will know if by taking the time to measure the ‘unhealthy sugar’ in the things you commonly eat for a day.

The way to do this is to remember 1 teaspoon of sugar is 4 grams. 

The NHS guidance says that added sugars shouldn't make up more than 5% of the energy (calorie intake) you get from food and drink each day. This is about 30g of sugar a day for an adult.

So you only count the added sugar.  Sugar from healthy foods (unprocessed) will not be part of your 30g a day.  Of course if you consume less than the 30g of added sugar that is ok because you will be getting sugar from those other more healthy sources.

So if you want to cut out or cut down on the unhealthy added sugar try 

1.     Measuring the amount of added sugar (in any food with a label) you consume on one day. Do this by working out how many teaspoons of sugar you have consumed according to the label on the food.  Eg. If the label says 16 grams of sugar per 100 grams and you have had 200 grams you have consumed 8 teaspoons of sugar, or 32 grams (2 grams over your 30g allowance)

2.     On the basis of what you record decide what you want or need to reduce

3.     Use the tips below to help change your daily eating habits

4.     Record either how much added sugar you consume each day or list the foods you have eaten with added sugar eg, milk, table sauce etc, this will give you an indication of how much sugar you have consumed and you can compare that with the day you measured

5.     Alternatively try to cut out all added sugar (processed food) for a few days and then go back to eating normally.  You may find you want less of the processed food. 

It is helpful to remember:

·      If a food has more than 22.5 of total sugar per 100g it is high in sugar

·      If a food has less that 5 grams of sugar per 100 gram it is low in sugar

Some tips

1.     Cut back on or cut out sugary drinks, have instead fruit teas, herbal tea, water

2.     Avoid deserts, have instead, baked fruit, nuts and natural yogurt

3.     Avoid table sauces and cook-in sauces, have instead, mustard, lemon and olive oil, pesto, low sugar/salt stock

4.     Eat full fat foods – low fat foods often contain high sugar levels

5.     Eat whole foods - Processed foods are ultra refined and contain main additives some of which are sugars

6.     Check the sugar on labels including canned foods

7.     Be careful with snacks labelled ‘healthy’ they can often have a lot of sugar, have instead hard boiled eggs or a handful of nuts

8.     Avoid processed breakfast foods, have instead home made muesli, eggs, avocado, be careful on the bread two slices can contain 1.5 teaspoons of sugar or 6 grams

9.     Be aware of the sugar in alcohol, spirits have very little but check the mixers, white wine (125ml) has 1.5 teaspoons of sugar, red wine ¼ teaspoon of sugar, Larger very little usually but check the label 

Other words for sugar

Sugar is not always labelled sugar so look for any of these terms

·       High-fructose corn syrup

·       Cane sugar or juice

·       Maltose

·       Dextrose

·       Invert sugar

·       Rice syrup

·       Corn syrup

·       Molasses

·       Caramel

·       Glucose

·       Sucrose

·       Honey

To curb sugar cravings

To curb sugar cravings, stock up on protein and fat-rich whole foods, such as meat, fish, eggs, full-fat dairy products, avocados and nuts.  Interestingly some research has also shown a link between lack of sleep and food choices!

Good luck!