How To Eat Sugar More Sensibly

What is sugar?

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate found in food which breaks down into glucose once eaten. This glucose is then used for energy to help us function. The key thing to remember here is that, not all sugar is bad sugar. Natural sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruits, starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams and even in cow’s milk. Natural sugars are an essential part of a balanced diet as it provides us with other nutrients like fibre, vitamins and minerals to support our health along with glucose to provide us with energy.

Added sugars are sugars that are added to food during food processing. These added sugars are found in food such as soft drinks, fruit juice, cordials, baked good, desserts, chocolates, candies, ice cream, puddings, sports drinks, table sugar etc. Food containing added sugars are high in sugar and low in fibre and other nutrients, providing minimal nutrition value. The added sugars can increase the overall caloric intake and has been shown to make the maintenance of a healthy body weight challenging. Studies have shown that consuming large quantities of added sugar has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, dental cavities, heart disease, cancer, fatigue and hypertension. [1]

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes that are zero or low-calorie alternatives to sugar or added sugar containing food items. Some sweeteners can be made from natural leaf extracts and some are manufactured. Nutritive sweeteners called polyols which include erythritol, isomalt, malitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol have less calories and exert a smaller effect on blood glucose levels compared to sugar. They are often used in products advertised for diabetics. Nevertheless, some of these products contain a high fat and calorie content and should not be consumed excessively as it may cause a laxative effect with bloating and diarrhea. [2] The most common artificial sweeteners include acesulfame potassium, aspartame, saccharin, stevia, sucralose, cyclamate, neotame etc. Artificial sweeteners are subject to extreme safety testing before being approved for use. [2] Therefore, it should not cause any adverse effects to your body.

At this stage, research suggests that some sweeteners in low to moderate levels have been approved even for pregnancy. [] Nevertheless, research in this space is still conflicting and inconclusive in regards to dental health, appetite, weight loss and gut health. However, consuming a sweetener in moderate quantities to help you gradually reduce the sugar consumption in your food is safe. [2]

When choosing food, consider food as a whole instead of looking at one component alone. For instance, considering a fruit which has natural sugar, but will also provide fibre, vitamins and minerals to support health and wellbeing is important.

What you can do to eat sugar in a more sensible manner

  • Do not completely cut out sugar altogether. Make slow gradual changes. E.g. if you take 2 tsp of sugar with your tea reduce it to 1 tsp of sugar or you can reduce the sugar by at least ¼ in most recipes that contain sugar.
  • Learn to substitute sugar with fruit puree, mashed banana in baked food items, pancakes etc.
  • Consider the overall pattern of added sugar consumed and find a substitute to consume short term, to help you gradually wean off a low nutrient dense food or drink item. E.g. if you drink 2 bottles of soft drink per day, swapping to a zero sugar or low sugar alternative will help you reduce sugar intake.
  • Incorporate fruits as desserts e.g. dipping fresh fruits in chocolate
  • Be aware of where all the added sugar in your diet is coming from and look out for hidden sugar in food e.g. honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, cane sugar, agave nectar, coconut sugar, molasses, lactose, dextrose, dextrin, maltose, sucrose caramel etc. These are all considered as sugar and will only be absorbed in your body as sugar.
  • Give it some time. Reducing your overall sugar intake is not going to happen over-night. You will have strong sugar cravings at first, but with time, this will reduce and gradually disappear.

The key takeaway is that not all sugar is bad. It is the added sugar, if consumed in large quantities that will cause negative effects to your overall health. We know that cutting out sugar completely is difficult and unrealistic and we always tend to go back to these habits. Therefore, it is important to understand and identify where the added sugar is coming from and this will help you find ways to gradually reduce your added sugar consumption with time.

References

  1. WHO (2015) World Health Organization, Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and children. Geneva
  2. Diabetes UK (2020) Sugars, sugar substitutes and sweeteners: natural and artificial Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/enjoy-food/carbohydrates-and-diabetes/sugar-sweeteners-and-diabetes Accessed: 23/10/2020
  3.  Sugar Substitutes [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic. 2022 [cited 11 March 2022]. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15166-sugar-substitutes–non-nutritive-sweeteners
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