We all know that too much sugar is bad for us. But how much sugar per day is acceptable? As well as well known issues such as obesity, tooth decay and Type 2 diabetes, research has now implicated sugar in other health problems such as heart disease and ageing. Sugar has definitely now taken over from saturated fat as the number one enemy in nutrition!
Recent guidance from the UK’s official nutrition advisors SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition) states that recommended sugar per day intakes should be halved from 10% to 5% of total calories. Currently most adults get around 12% but for teenagers it is more than 15%!
This along with some popular books and blogs has led to many people going completely sugar-free, and the majority of us trying to cut down. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with all things nutrition related, some confusion and mixed messages have arisen about what exactly is included under the umbrella of sugar and even over whether fruit is now ‘bad.’
What exactly do we mean by sugar?
The sugar we are talking about here is refined or added sugar, the kind spooned into tea or added to cakes and biscuits. This is known as free sugar or extrinsic sugar and includes table sugar or sucrose and syrups such as high-fructose corn syrup. These refined, processed sugars are often referred to as ‘empty calories’ because they provide pure energy without any nutritional benefit.
It does not however include, naturally occurring sugars found in foods such as fruit and dairy products, known as intrinsic sugars. Dairy products naturally contain the sugar lactose and fruit contains fructose. These are not the same as the refined sugars added to processed foods and drinks – it is these added sugars that we need to reduce.
More about fruit
Unfortunately, confusion and incorrect advice from some popular diets and books has led to the two different types of sugar described above being ‘lumped’ together. This has had the unfortunate consequence of scaring some people away from fruit.
Research on fructose (partly prompted by the increased use of high-fructose corn syrup) has found it can be harmful in large amounts. This has led to the incorrect conclusion that fruit, which also contains fructose, must be bad as well. This is completely wrong though, because fructose is only harmful in large quantities and it is virtually impossible to eat enough fructose to cause harm by eating fruit. This research relates to high-fructose corn syrup and other processed sugars, which contain massive amounts of fructose.
In addition, the natural sugars found in fruit come packaged with many other nutrients including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, water and fibre, making fruit very beneficial to health. Also, because the sugar in fruit is bound to fibre and contained within the cell walls of fruit, it is broken down and released gradually into the bloodstream. This means you don’t get the rapid rise in blood sugar (or insulin) you get from eating something high in added sugar, like a donut. These fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin cause many of the health problems of too much sugar.
What about fruit juice
When fruit juice is made from fruit, the fibre is removed and the cell walls are broken down releasing the sugars and ‘freeing’ them. Fruit juice is therefore classified as a source of free sugar. The fruit juices that most people drink however, are highly processed, often made from concentrate and heated to very high temperatures, which destroys most of the vitamins. Some even have sugar added to them! Of course this results in a product with very little nutritional benefit and it is far, far better to eat a whole fruit than this kind of processed juice. However, it must be noted that not all fruit juices are created equal and less processed fruit juices and smoothies can be a great source of nutrients.
Beauty & Go
Beauty & Go Drinks are not a fruit juice, they are a beauty drink, which is a whole new category of products coming under the heading of nutraceuticals (foods containing health-giving additives and having medicinal benefit). They do not contain added sugars, only naturally occurring sugars from fruits and vegetables and the natural sweetener Stevia. They have also been sugar reduced, so that the level of natural fruit sugars has been lowered. This results in a lower calorie content (just 87 per 250ml bottle) allowing you to drink the recommended 1 per day without worrying about adding too many calories or natural sugars to your diet. In addition, Beauty & Go drinks are made from whole fruits (like a smoothie) and contain added fruit fibre, so they provide some of the valuable fibre you would get from whole fruits.
Cutting down on added sugar
Phew! Now that we have cleared all that up, if you would like to cut down on those refined, added sugars here are some tips on how to do so.
Too much sugar…
• Weight Gain
• Blood sugar imbalances
• Energy fluctuations
• Skin ageing
• Insulin resistance and diabetes
• Tooth decay
• Promotes inflammation in the body
• Increased risk Heart Disease
|• Reduce sugar gradually to avoid ‘withdrawal’ symptoms and let your taste buds adjust to less sweet flavours
|• Avoid liquid sugar – fizzy drinks, energy drinks, colas, syrups in coffee and sugar in tea or coffee – try sparkling water with lime
|• Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, biscuits, cakes and pastries are processed in the body in the same way as sugar and contain added sugars – swap for whole-grain carbs
|• Processed foods are often full of sugar – read labels carefully and look for brown sugar, corn syrup, maltose, fructose, dextrose, molasses, brown rice syrup, cane sugar, cane syrup, and evaporated cane juice, which are all just names for sugar!
|• Swapping sugar for artificial sweeteners like aspartame is not the answer. Aspartame has been linked with headaches, mood changes, insomnia and depression and even weight gain! Try my natural suggestions below instead.
|• Molasses, honey, and maple syrup do count toward your 5% allowance, however they are less processed, higher in nutrients and have a lower GI than table sugar. If you want to use these, use in small amounts.
Sweet alternatives to sugar
√ Stevia – natural low calorie sweetener, read about it here
√ Lacuma powder – sweet tasting powder from dried Lacuma fruit
√ Yacon Syrup – contains no free sugars and has a GI of 0 so does not affect blood sugar
√ Dates and other dried fruit – they are high in natural fruit sugars, but replace refined sugar very well in baking
√ Mashed banana – add to baking, pancakes, porridge, overnight oats etc. in place of sugar
√ Sweet spices such as cinnamon and vanilla – cinnamon actually helps balance blood sugar, which helps reduce sugar cravings