If you’re not aware of your sugar intake, you could be sabotaging your overall health, as it’s not a surprise to understand that sugar is really not good for us. Sugar, in its many forms, affects the body, with refined sugar being the main offender. Sugar is hidden everywhere and is often added to products to create flavour, palatability and extend shelf life…. And as a result, we can easily consume way too much of it.
Sugar occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates including fruit, vegetables, grains and dairy. These foods, in their ‘whole food’ form, contain natural sugars, beneficial fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and more – all beneficial nutrients that your body needs to optimally function. These foods are digested slowly and steadily and are needed as part of a balanced diet. However, foods high in refined sugars (cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, processed foods etc.) are nutritionally void, lacking fibre, minerals, protein, healthy fats etc, and are quickly and rapidly digested. These refined sugars are doing your body more harm than good.
Effects of sugar on the body
Fructose is the sweet molecule in sugar and contains calories that the body can burn as a source of energy. It is not at all nutritious as there is not one biochemical reaction in the body that requires it.
As sugar is hidden practically everywhere, it’s not a surprise a high sugar intake has an impact on the body. Overconsumption of foods high in added sugars have been long associated with chronic disease, mainly, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Other chronic disease progression includes diabetes mellitus, liver cirrhosis and dementia – all of which are linked to metabolic changes involving cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar level imbalance.
Consistent high sugar consumption can directly cause inflammation and contribute to chronic disease. Sugar promotes gut lining damage and weight gain, alters vital organ function, and as well as contributes to aging, poor immune function, brain function, stress… and the list goes on.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a maximum of approximately 6 teaspoons or 25 grams of refined sugar per day, for the average adult at a calorie intake of 2000kcal a day. Just remember 1 teaspoon of sugar = 4.2grams.
Key tips to reducing sugar in your diet
The good news is there are a number of ways to reduce sugar consumption in your diet through diet and lifestyle choices. Reducing your sugar intake simply starts with awareness, education and practical swaps that are realistic and sustainable to form a part of your new healthy (sugar-free) habit.
Here are 4 practical steps to start eliminating sugar from your diet.
1. Know where sugars hide
Sugar can be listed under a number of different names and it’s important to acknowledge natural sugars are also just forms of sugar and still contribute to your sugar intake over a day.
Other names for sugar include dextrose, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, honey, maple syrup, malt, maltose, lactose, brown sugar, raw sugar, sucrose, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, molasses etc.
2. Learn to read food labels
Reading food labels can help to monitor your intake of added sugars. First, it’s important to be able to recognise the sugar and hidden sugars in the ingredient panel and then understand how much sugar per serve is in that product. Try not to be fooled by the health claims on labels and don’t let these be a guide for you to consume the product.
In the Nutrition Information Panel – locate the ‘Per 100g’ collum and locate ‘Sugar’ – Aim for 5g or less of sugar per 100g serving and be aware of how many servings are in the product.
3. Avoid drinking sugar
Soft drinks, energy drinks and fruit-based juices all contain large amounts of added and concentrated sugar which easily spikes and increase your daily sugar intake over government recommendations. Alcohol is another key culprit when it comes to increasing your sugar intake daily.
Try choosing water or sparkling water instead of flavoured and sugary drinks and again read the labels to ensure store-bought beverages don’t contain sugar.
4. Avoid packaged and convenience foods
It’s easy to overconsume sugar when it comes to convenience foods and snacks. Biscuits, muesli bars, muffins, ‘healthy’ treats all tend to be full of added sugars. These foods spike your blood sugar levels, providing a quick source of energy yet leaving you to crash, burn and quickly crave something sugary again… And contributes to mood swings, fatigue and poor concentration.
Try snacking on foods closest to their whole food forms and avoid anything out of a packet. Fresh veggie sticks and dip, raw nuts and seeds, fruit and whole-grain crackers are great alternatives and are high in protein to stabilise blood sugar levels, help to sustain energy and keep you fuller for longer.
It’s all about increasing your awareness as to where sugars are hidden and how much you may be consuming. Small, consistent changes over time will help to reduce sugar intake and excess consumption of refined sugars.