All about sugar
All About Sugar
It’s that weird period between Christmas and New Year when we’re not quite sure what day of the week it is and all you know about the past 7 days is that it was a bit of a blur but involved cheese. A lot of cheese. Hopefully you’re having a relaxing time and enjoying a break from normal life. But soon, if it hasn’t happened already, your inbox an social media feeds will start filling up with all the latest fad diets, quick health fixes and detoxes that seems to hold a special appeal in January.
Sugar gets a lot of attention at this time of year with #refinedsugarfree trending on Instagram, but what’s best for your health? Should unrefined sugar get a health halo? And do you need to cut out sugar altogether?
What is sugar?
Most of the sugars we eat in our diet consist of simple sugars called glucose and fructose (lactose in milk is also a simple sugar). Normal table sugar, sucrose, is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. There are differences in the make-up of sugars, but if we look at table sugar, maple syrup, coconut sugar etc, they are all pretty similar in terms of their glucose/fructose profile. Unrefined sugar such as honey or coconut sugar are treated in exactly the same way as table sugar in the body. They main contain trace minerals but if you’re relying on sugar as your source, you probably need to look at the rest of your diet! They’re also often very expensive. If a recipe claims to be healthy because it’s free of refined sugar, take a look at what it’s been replaced with – if it’s a more “natural” sugar it’s still not going to be super-healthy.
How does sugar impact your body?
At its most basic level, glucose is the body’s preferred source of fuel, so it’s a good source of energy. Beyond that though, sugar doesn’t offer any health benefits. Not only is it a cause of dental decay (the leading cause of hospitalisation for children in the UK), it can cause fluctuations in your energy levels and like any source of energy, will be converted to fat if consumed in excess – which is easy to do because it tastes good!
What’s the difference between free sugars and intrinsic sugars?
The main thing you should be thinking about when it comes to sugar is intrinsic sugars vs free sugars. Intrinsic sugars are those found naturally in foods, such as fruit. Because fruit has fib, the impact on your blood sugar is fairly low. Free sugars are those we add to foods (refined or otherwise!) such as the sugar in a cake or the honey on our porridge. Fruit juice also contains free sugars once we’ve removed the fibre from the fruit, so limit fruit juice to a maximum of 150ml per day.
How much sugar should I be eating?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines suggest that we should be eating no more than 30g a day of free sugars (which equates to about 7 teaspoons). For children aged 4-6 years, the limit is 19g (5 teaspoons), for children 7-10 years it’s 24g (6 teaspoons) and for children 11 or over it’s the same as the adult guidelines. When you consider a can of Coke contains 36g or an average serving of a sweet cereal can contain 2 teaspoons, you can see how quickly it can add up.
So should I cut out sugar?
Most of us could do with reducing our sugar intake as we nearly all exceed the daily recommended WHO limits. However, there is no need to avoid it entirely – sweet foods are enjoyable and cutting them out altogether could lead to craving them more. Are you really going to commit to never having another slice of birthday cake?
It’s better to be mindful about the sugar you do consume and particularly to be aware of added sugars where it’s easy to consume more than you expect. The sugar in a chocolate bar is fairly obvious, but the additions to breakfast cereal, ready meals and condiments can all add up more quickly than you’d expect. Sugar can be hard to spot in the ingredients , so look out for ingredients ending in -ose (e.g. glucose, maltose, sucrose), syrups and honey. Be aware the sugar in different guises can appear several times on an ingredients list, so it’s also worth checking the amount per serving in the nutritional information.