Many of us may have a desire to give up or minimize the amount of sugar we are consuming on a daily basis. We understand the affect it is having on our bodies when consuming a large amount of sugar in one sitting causes our blood sugar levels to spike, and gives us that emotional feel-good ‘high’, we all know that feeling, but also the one that follows quickly after, the slump, leaving us feeling irritable, tired and craving more sugary foods. This roller-coaster way of eating may be contributing to a number of health concerns that many people presently suffering with like heart disease, being overweight and diabetes.
Our body does require some sugar (glucose) to function, sugar is a carbohydrate and is found naturally in a variety of foods from lactose in milk to the fructose in fruit and honey. Glucose is necessary for our health and all of the cells in our body, it gives us the fuel of energy for our muscles to use and it helps keeps our brains active. However, our bodies do not need the amount of sugar we are currently consuming.
The problem is that sugar is in nearly all of our food sources and it is a huge challenge to lower the amount of sugar consumed on a daily basis.
The new recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UK’s official nutrition advisors are that only 5% of our daily calorie intake should consist of added, or ‘free’ sugars. For women this equates to approximately 4/5 teaspoons (25g) and men 6/7 teaspoons (35g).
What we know already
Most of us realize that many processed foods contain large quantities of sugar which supplies energy in the form of a high dose of calories with little or no nutritional value to them. I’m talking about processed foods such as pizza, hamburgers, meat products, cakes and biscuits, in addition drinks that are fizzy and sugary such as colas, 7 up, lemonades and energy drinks.
Check for Hidden Sugars
However, the problem is it is hidden away in loads of other foods too; some of them we may not have thought about for example pasta sauces which could have between 6 and 12 grams of sugar per serving, others to look out for are tomato sauce, teriyaki sauce, cheese sauce mix, steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salad cream, mayonnaise and some tinned soups – tomato soup contains four teaspoons of sugar.
Foods that we associate with being “healthy” sadly can also have sugar added to them too like low-fat yogurt to make them tastier, and to enhance and sweeten the flavour, others to check are fruit juice, fruit smoothies, health bars, dried fruit and breakfast cereal!
So where and how do we start?
Start when you go shopping by sticking to the perimeter of the supermarket where all the fresh foods are, buy real foods as much as you can.
Read food labels, yes, I agree this is time consuming, but only in the beginning, if the first 2 or 3 ingredients on the list is a named sugar this could be anything ending in ‘ose’ (glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, maltose) – these are all variations on sugar, put it back on the shelf.
Manufacturer’s use a host of different names for sugar; here are some of the ones to look for and be aware of:
- Fructose is sugar derived from fruit and vegetables;
- Lactose is milk sugar;
- Maltose is sugar that comes from grain.
Other names sugar may be under:
Anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, agave, evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, liquid fructose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses,.
On the nutrition panel look at the ‘carbohydrates of which sugars’ – this includes both natural and added sugars; less than 5g per 100g is low, more than 15g per 100g is high. If it is high, put it back on the shelf.
What can you replace sugar with?
You want to replace sugar with substitutes that are naturally found in small amounts in plants and fruits – they are Mylitol, Sorbitol and Mannitol. They offer sweetness and fewer calories. When home-baking use Xylitol in the same ratio as sugar (1:1) – the only drawback is it cannot be used when yeast is the raising agent.
Can I eat Fruit?
Yes, in moderation as some fruit have a high sugar content such as grapes, bananas, mangos and cherries, but unlike refined sugars, fruits come with dietary fibre which the body is able to process and use to properly digest their sugar content.
Other ways to cut down on sugar
Start preparing and cooking meals from scratch at home using whole foods ingredients, whenever possible.
Start gradually reducing the amount of sugar in your hot drinks this way your taste buds get used to less sweetness.
Cinnamon is always good to add onto your breakfast cereal, it offers both flavour and sweetness and can also be sprinkled on to a cappuccino. Cinnamon is packed with powerful antioxidants and some studies show that the antioxidants in it have potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Cut down the amount of sugar used in recipes and instead add in spices for flavour and sweetness like cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg or cloves.
Eat balanced meals – have protein at every meal as this keeps you feeling full for longer and helps prevent food cravings.
Eat wholegrain food – brown rice, pasta, wholemeal bread and oats.
Have full-fat foods in smaller quantities rather than the low-fat ‘diet’ food which has a higher sugar content.
Dilute fruit juice if you want a tall glass-full, stick to just one small glass a day.
Have soft drinks only as a treat once a week.
Limit the amount of alcohol to just the weekend.
Be aware that synthetic sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin and sucralose are put into ‘sugar-free’ food. These sweeteners do not curb your sweet tooth, what they do do is send messages to the brain that are confused, leading to you over-eating.
Finally as Sarah Wilson says in I Quit Sugar: ‘Be gentle and kind’. Meaning don’t punish yourself if you have a ‘bad’ meal or for that matter a ‘bad’ day of consuming too many sugary foods, it is just one meal or just one day. Start afresh on your next meal or the following day, you will find these ‘bad’ meals and days will become less often as you become more aware of where sugar is hidden in the food you consume.