Sugar & Healthy Eating

Sugar is one of the most talked-about topics in the health industry worldwide. There is constant debate about the role of sugar in causing health problems like obesity, tooth decay and diabetes. All of this conflicting information can be confusing, leaving you with questions such as ‘which sugars are the bad sugars?’ and ‘how much sugar is too much?’ We have done the research for you to give you the basic information you need about sugar.

What type of sugar is ‘bad sugar’?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has made some recommendations about sugar in a recent report. The report suggests that the sugars to avoid are ‘free sugars’, as these have a strong link to adverse health effects such as obesity and diabetes.

But what are free sugars?

Free sugars are defined as sugars added by the manufacturer or chef to foods, as well as the naturally occurring sugars in foods such as honey, syrups and fruit juice concentrates. This includes monosaccharides such as glucose and fructose, and disaccharides such as sucrose or table sugar. Free sugars do not include the naturally occurring sugars in fruit, vegetables and milk, as these have not yet been linked to any adverse effects on health.

So how much sugar is too much?

The report by the WHO has suggested that our intake of free sugars should account for less than 10% of our total energy intake. For adults and teenagers, this means around 12 teaspoons of sugar per day, and about half that for young children. This equals about 50 grams a day for adults, and 25 grams for children.

So the real question comes down to how much sugar you consume daily right now. You may not think it’s much, but when you consider that a single can of soft drink contains 10 teaspoons of sugar (!), it begins to add up quickly. Free sugars are hiding in a lot of what we eat, including the little things such as tomato sauce, muesli bars and flavoured yoghurts.

As a result of this, the average Australian is currently consuming around 30 teaspoons of sugar per day – more than twice the recommended amount. In 2011, we ate on average 41.9kg of sugar per person over the course of the year. While that number is down from previous years, it’s still a lot of sugar!

What are the health benefits from decreasing dietary sugars?

Decreasing the amount of free sugars in your diet leads to decreased chances of diabetes and tooth decay in the long run. It also greatly decreases the chance of obesity. Too much sugar can also have less noticeable, non-physical effects, such as mood swings and poorer quality sleep. By reducing the amount of sugar in your diet you can help to improve both your physical health and mental wellbeing long-term.

What are the worst culprits for free sugars?

One of the biggest sources of sugar in our diets is sugary drinks, including soft drinks, fruit juices and iced teas with added sugar, and sports drinks. Sugary drinks account for 9.7% of sugar intake in Australia, making them the second biggest source behind fruit at 16%. While they are not a unique cause of obesity or diabetes, there is a strong correlation between sugary drinks and adverse health effects.

Reducing your sugar intake – Top 5 Tips

#1. Check the ingredients labels on food and drinks- if sugar is one of the first 2 ingredients, it’s safe to assume that the amount of sugar is high – the product probably has a lot of added sugars.

#2. Look for ‘no added sugar’ labels on packaging.

#3. Reduce the amount of sugar you add to tea and coffee, and on top of foods like porridge and other breakfast cereals.

#4. Decrease the amount of sugar you use in baking. Many recipes call for a large amount of sugar. Decreasing this amount by a third, or even half, will often have little to no effect on the taste of the final product.

#5. Limit your intake of high sugar foods such as white or milk chocolate, lollies, juices, cakes etc. You don’t have to rule them out altogether, just consume them occasionally as treats rather than as part of your regular diet.

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