THE TRUTH ABOUT SUGAR
Some sugar occurs naturally in foods like fruits, grains, vegetables and milk. And these foods are good for you! But the sugars found in foods like sweets, cakes, cookies, cold drinks, energy and sports drinks all contain added sugars. Unlike foods with naturally occurring sugar, these foods don’t provide any nutritional benefit to your diet.
If you’ve ever heard the term “empty calories” that’s what these foods provide – no nutrition and lots of calories. As an example, both milk and cold drink contain sugar, but milk contains a natural occurring sugar called lactose as well as bone building calcium and Vitamin D, while cold drink provides nothing more than calories.
What is the effect of added sugars to our health?
• Your Weight: As a society, the amount of sugars we are consuming is increasing and so is our waistline. Did you know that South Africa is placed third in the world obesity ranking, being the first developing country on the list? In sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa was found to have the highest overweight and obesity rate. We’re a game changer in the global obesity epidemic, proof that fatness doesn’t have to be an exclusively first world problem. This excess weight increases risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other health problems
• Your Heart: Too much added sugars can increase your triglycerides, a type of fat found in blood. Having high triglycerides can increase your risk for heart disease
• Your Energy Levels: Have you ever experienced a sugar low – feeling dizzy, hungry, shaky, irritable? Foods with a lot of added sugars tend to cause a sharp rise and fall in our blood sugars, or blood glucose levels (i.e. high GI foods). This translates into a sharp rise and fall in our energy levels leaving you grumpy, tired and hungry for more sugar
• Your Cravings: Do you ever feel like once you’ve had a piece of cake, you can’t say no to another cookie, sweets or chocolate? Foods with added sugars tend to make use crave more and more sugar. Emerging research shows that foods that have added sugars also tend to more hyper-palatable – this means it becomes hard to fight off those cravings once you’ve had some of these foods
Reading Food Labels
Finding added sugars can be tricky on food labels because sugar on food labels per 100g or portion include both naturally occurring sugar and added sugars (stated as total carbohydrates). To find added sugars, you’ll have to read the ingredient list. Keep in mind, ingredients are listed by weight. The ingredients listed first thus make up the majority of that product. Therefore, if you see added sugars at the beginning of the ingredient list, it would be wise to choose another option.
Added sugars also have different names – so you’ll need to also do some investigating too. Here are some common terms that indicate your product contains added sugars:
• Brown Sugar
• Cane Juice and Cane syrup
• Cane Sugar
• Corn sugar or syrup
• Dextrin or maltodextrin
• Fruit Juice concentrate
• Fruit nectars
• High Fructose Corn Syrup
• Malt Syrup
• Raw Sugar
• Words ending in “-ose” – glucose, maltose, dextrose
How much sugar is “safe” for me?
The American Heart Association recommends that we limit added sugars to 2 tablespoons each day – that’s only about 100 calories (400 kJ) from added sugars. One sports drink usually contains an average of 12 teaspoons of added sugars! Drinking just one drink a day puts you three times over the limit!
How can I reduce my intake of added sugars?
Research studies estimate that most people get more than 22 teaspoons of added sugars each day. That’s about three times more than the recommendation! For weight loss and disease prevention, reducing added sugars is crucial. Some ideas on how to decrease your intake of added sugars:
• Swap energy drinks, sports drinks and cold drinks for water or unsweetened tea. Flavour your water naturally with fresh fruit and herbs
• Swap sugar sweetened cereals for whole grain, low GI cereals. Be careful, even cereals that sound healthy aren’t necessarily a whole grain – read the ingredient list. If sugar is listed near the top of the ingredient list, reconsider. Instead, add your own fruits and nuts
• Purchase plain products and add your own fruit, honey or natural sweeteners, such as xylitol. The amount you add will be much less than what manufacturers add.
And finally, the best way to reduce your overall intake of added sugars is too choose more whole foods. This is the best way to ensure your consuming only the natural sugars Mother Nature intended for you to consume. Sugar is not necessarily bad, but we do have to be careful about the type of sugar we consume.