Our latest guest blog is from dietics student, Amy Robinson, and comes just in time for National Sugar Week!
Sugar is a word that has been thrown around a lot in recent years and can be a confusing topic with a lot of conflicting articles and online information. When discussing sugar, it’s really important to know what kinds of different sugars there are, and which foods we find them in – not all sugars are the same. Let’s take a look at some common types.
1. Free sugars are the sugars added to foods, plus the sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, and unsweetened fruit juices, which have all been processed in some way during manufacturing.
2. Added sugars are those added to foods during processing, excluding naturally occurring sugars.
3. Naturally occurring sugars are the sugars naturally found in intact fruit, vegetables and dairy, which have not been altered during the processing of the product, for example, whole apples and oranges.
Once you’ve got your head around the different types, you can start to think about how much of each is appropriate or healthy for you and your goals.
As a nation, we are eating far more free and added sugars than we require. For people aged 11 and over, it is advised to consume 30g of free sugars per day, or 5% of our total daily energy intake. In simple English, this equates to 7 sugar cubes per day (SACN, 2015). Unfortunately, current intakes are contributing between 12-15% of our total daily energy intake, which is more than double the daily recommended amount (Public Health England, 2015). Consuming more free sugars than our body needs can become harmful as consuming excess calories can lead to weight gain, in turn increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay and some cancers (Public Health England, 2015).
Some products available in the shops today make it increasingly difficult to keep to that 30g per day. A good example is your classic honey roasted muesli, which contains 7.7g of sugar (mostly free sugar) per 45g portion. That is already a quarter of your daily allowance consumed during breakfast!
If your somebody who struggles with your sugar intake, here are a few simple ways to reduce it:
• Be more aware – simply checking the “traffic light” system on lots of foods will give you a good idea how much sugar is in the product you’re eating. A green label shows it contains low sugar (less than 5.0g per 100g of product), an amber label shows it has a medium amount of sugar (between 5.0g and 22.5g per 100g of product) and a red label shows the product is high in sugar (22.5g or more per 100g of product) (British Nutrition Foundation, 2018). Try comparing different variations of the food to see how the sugar content varies.
• Choose lower sugar cereals, such as porridge or bran flakes
• Swap full sugar fizzy drinks to zero sugar alternatives, and sugar in hot drinks for sweetener
• Swap milk chocolate for dark chocolate
But sugar isn’t all bad, and it’s certainly not something we should be scared of eating. Here are a few common myths.
Myth 1: I need to cut out sugar to lose weight
Many people cut sugar out of their diet to lose weight, but I am delighted to tell you that this isn’t necessary! Weight loss is accomplished through achieving a daily calorie deficit, which simply means consuming less energy/calories than the amount our body uses each day. This then leads to the body having to use stored energy instead (aka. body fat) which we all recognise as weight loss. A healthy balanced diet is always recommended and cutting out an entire food group is miserable and should be discouraged! It can be useful to speak to a trained professional to give you individualised advice to help you achieve your weight loss goals.
Myth 2: Smoothies have fruit in so I should consume lots of these to be healthy
We all know fruit is good for us, so surely fruit smoothies are too? Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as that. When we blend fruit to make a smoothie, the sugar that was once neatly compacted and stored away in the little cells encapsulated by fibre is now released. Why does this matter? Well, when we eat an intact fruit, our digestive system has to work really hard to break down this fibre in order to access the natural sugar, allowing the sugar to slowly and steadily absorb into the blood. When you blend fruit and veg the fibre is removed, and the sugar is freely available within the liquid. This means our bodies don’t have to work hard to gain access to the sugar, and it will be rapidly absorbed into the blood, often causing sugar spikes. This isn’t to say smoothies should never be consumed, they are an effective way of getting one of your five a day and some key vitamins and minerals, but it’s recommended to only have one 150ml glass of fruit juice or smoothie per day and consume whole fruit or veg during the rest of the day (British dietetic Association, 2017).
Myth 3: Sugar causes diabetes
Firstly, there are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune condition, while Type 2 Diabetes is caused by insulin resistance or lack of insulin production which is often exacerbated by obesity. So sugar doesn’t directly cause diabetes, but consuming excess sugar may put an individual into a calorie surplus which can cause weight gain, increasing an individual’s risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes (NICE, 2015). Obesity accounts for 80-85% of the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, highlighting how effective weight loss can be in prevention (Diabetes UK, 2019).
British Dietetic Association, 2017. Sugar. [online] Bda.uk.com. Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/sugar.html
British Nutrition Foundation, 2018. Helping You Eat Well. [online] British Nutrition Foundation. Available at: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/helpingyoueatwell/324-labels.html?start=3&__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=0bf050e9a12cc075860b38e371b816ab6f404738-1599391738-0-AVMcS5-jcsrsMDuv1jSMeC_P5eXKrjVeKGWw71iW3PoPchLkoEpkVn2k-OcliOFf25R_b7ZfleobyIsQD-OpUqvP8HE2IHGMqhGDh-mEGwvy-N_VZEcJtpTxn-0moKgnKezlaorzWVhXJa52jy2VX0AtDmAdpTRFp5FIk2oFhX3e-rugeSidk0r-EJhOzRgZvuHMDao9YMJRiF_7DY4I7J9wpL7knhqM5tCafjJ-Azb7P1cKxqL_DicP3Mq8VU1V5s-iqiPa8f0ex39Cbra-_F0hiwe0aQ0NqeyyLYt9o95RGQXNmUGUnot1nBkB_vehU-tMP1sjPVQsfu45ntd0h2Enm-duz3QcYx9KtBLYMgpKkH8KEhN8iCbxYuIc1a6F0q90QdQcobWpCe0LLBV1HAg
Diabetes UK, (2019). Diabetes And Obesity. [online] Diabetes. Available at: https://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-and-obesity.html
NICE, (2014). Obesity Identification, assessment, and management of overweight and obesity in children, young people and adults. [online] p.5. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg189/evidence/obesity-update-appendix-c-pdf-193342432#:~:text=Comparison%3A%20Standard%20dietary%20advice%20defined,exercise%20advice%2Fmulticomponent%20psychological%20support.
NICE, 2015. Diabetes - Type 2 | Topics A To Z | CKS | NICE. [online] Cks.nice.org.uk. Available at: https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/diabetes-type-2/
Public Health England, (2015). Sugar reduction: The evidence for action. [online] p.9. Available at:https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/470179/Sugar_reduction_The_evidence_for_action.pdf
SACN, (2015). SACN Carbohydrates And Health Report. [online] GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sacn-carbohydrates-and-health-report