Everything you need to know about sugar

We explain what sugar is, how it affects your body and sugar alternatives that are just as sweet.

It’s become the bad boy of the nutritional world, demonised in the mainstream media as ‘sweet poison’. But small amounts aren’t actually bad for us and could even do us good. so how much is too much? Let’s find out…

SUGAR EXPLAINED

Do you like a teaspoon of sugar in your tea or sprinkled over your cereal? Lots of people do but not everyone really knows what sugar is and how it affects them. The white sugar most people have at home is a carbohydrate called sucrose, which is often added to food and drinks and is known as ‘added’ sugar. Some foods like fruit, vegetables and dairy products, contain natural sugars. The sugar in dairy products is called lactose while the sugar in fruit is called fructose.

Sucrose is made up from two smaller carbohydrates – fructose and glucose. Fructose is quickly changed into glucose in our body and glucose is used by our body for energy. Carbohydrates are important as they give our bodies energy – but provide little in the way of other nutrients. Too much will lead to health issues and may be to blame for some cases of tooth decay.

A teaspoon of sugar provides around four grams of sugar and sixteen calories, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t a lot however it can easily add up. Adding sugar to your hot beverages is a process we don’t think twice about but that harmless cup of tea or your morning coffee (if you’re a coffee drinker) can soon be transformed into a nutritional no-no.

Small amounts of sugar are okay and in some cases necessary – that long day at school definitely calls for a piece or two of chocolate. It’s not about cutting out sugar completely, rather bringing awareness to where it sneaks into your day.

SUGAR RECOMMENDATIONS

The Australian Health Survey found that in 2011-2012, teenage males were consuming an average of 18 teaspoons of added sugar a day – and it’s only on the rise. This is despite the World Health Organization’s recommendation that if people do consume added sugars that they keep their intake below 10% of their total energy needs, and reduce it to less than 5% for additional health benefits.

To put this into perspective, one 600ml bottle of full-sugar fizzy drink can have as much as 15 teaspoons of sugar, which is more sugar than you should consume in an entire day!

SUGARY FOODS AND DRINKS

You can see how much sugar is in a product by reading the nutrition information label. In the per 100g column, you will be able to tell how much sugar is in 100g of the product. Use ‘sugars per serve’ to determine how many teaspoons are in a serving by dividing the figure by four (the number of grams in a teaspoon). For example, a product with 21g of sugar per serving has over five teaspoons – more than your recommended daily intake.

If you consume more than the recommended serving size, remember to take that into account when calculating your total sugar intake. Remember though that the figure given for the sugar content may include sugars from fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose), in addition to added sugar (sucrose). Make sure to check the ingredients list for added sugar (which could be labelled as cane sugar, sucrose, syrup, or glucose) and if it’s listed as one of the first three ingredients, there’s a good indication that there are high levels of sugar in the product.

SUGAR ALTERNATIVES

Cutting down on added sugar is never a bad thing. Here are some things that you can do to cut down on the sweet white stuff:

  • Swap fizzy drink, sugary juices and energy drinks for water, mineral water or drinks with no added sugars. (Remember to check the ingredients for store bought juice as the prime ingredient can often be added sugar).
  • Add citrus fruits to your water for taste and reduce the amount of biscuits, lollies and cakes that you eat.
  • If you’re heading out, plan ahead and snack smarter, opt for healthy whole foods such as carrot sticks with homemade hummus or a handful of nuts instead.
  • Reduce the amount of sugar in tea and coffee or switch to a natural sweetener such as stevia.
  • Experiment in baking — mashed bananas, pumpkin, sweet potato, avocados or apple purée can be used to add density and flavour in place of sugar.
  • Choose wholegrain cereals, natural muesli and oats rather than cereals high in sugar and additives.
  • Compare nutrition information labels, choose products that have less added sugar and look for where sugar appears in the product’s ingredient list.
  • Swap milk or white chocolate for dark chocolate with a high cocoa content.
  • Swap fruit yoghurt for plain Greek yoghurt — you can always add whole fruit to sweeten.

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