It is Sugar awareness week 18th – 24th January 2021 so I thought I would take a look at this in more detail for you as it is one of the biggest concerns my patients have when I see them at my clinics.
What is sugar?
The term ‘sugar’ usually refers to what we know as table or granulated sugar – the type of sugar that we add to our tea or coffee. We also are familiar to the different variations which include caster sugar, icing sugar, brown sugar, demerara sugar, these are types mostly used in baking.
These, you may already know, are not the only sugars around. Sugar occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy.
All ‘sugars’ are carbohydrates and along with starch they one of our body’s main source of energy. Carbohydrates are required for our brains, bodies and nervous system. In fact it has been part of our diets for thousands of years. Sugar is found naturally in most foods like fruits, vegetables and milk as well as being an ingredient used in a wide range of foods and drinks.
Great, so what is all the fuss about?
Consuming whole foods that contain natural sugar is acceptable as part of a healthy intake when you have a healthy metabolism. Plant foods have high amounts of fibre, essential minerals, and antioxidants alongside smaller amounts of carbs, and dairy foods contain protein, fats and calcium which are important for the body.
Because of these extra components your body digests these foods slowly allowing the sugar in them to provide a steady supply of energy to your cells. A sufficient intake of fruits, vegetables, and fibre rich foods have been shown to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
So what’s the problem?
Increasing technology has brought many changes to our food production. More and more convenience foods are available that taste good, are very addictive and can be eaten 24/7.
Problems occur when regularly eating these processed foods leads you to consume too much “added sugar”. The food manufacturers add this to enhance the flavour or extend shelf life and this can often be hidden in foods you would never imagine.
In the modern diet, the top sources of sugar are soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavoured yogurts, cereals, biscuits, cakes, sweets and most processed foods. But added sugar is also present in items that you may not think of as sweetened, like soups, bread, processed meats, and condiments like ketchup.
How much sugar are we allowed?
Our recommended dietary intake of sugar per day:
Adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars a day, (roughly equivalent to 7 tsps/sugar cubes).
Children aged 7 to 10 should have no more than 24g of free sugars a day (6 tsps/sugar cubes).
Children aged 4 to 6 should have no more than 19g of free sugars a day (5 tsps/sugar cubes).
What sugar we consume
Adults in the UK take in 3 times the recommended amount at an average of 22 teaspoons/cubes of added sugar per day, according to the NHS website.
Four to 10-year-olds are eating more than twice as much sugar as they should per day, equivalent to 13 tsps/sugar cubes (PHE 2018).
“Excess sugar’s impact on obesity, Blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, fatty liver and diabetes and this is well documented, but one area that may surprise many is how their taste for sugar can have a serious impact on their heart health and increase risk of stroke,” says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Impact of sugar on your heart
In a study published in 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine, Dr. Hu and his colleagues found an association between a high-sugar diet and a greater risk of dying from heart disease. Over the course of the 15-year study, people who are 17% to 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared with those who consumed 8% of their calories as added sugar.
“Basically, the higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease,” says Dr. Hu.
Sugar has several indirect connections to affecting heart health:
1) high amounts of sugar overload the liver. “Your liver metabolizes sugar the same way as alcohol, and converts dietary carbohydrates to fat,” says Dr. Hu. Over time, this can lead to a greater accumulation of fat, which may turn into fatty liver disease, a contributor to diabetes, which raises your risk for heart disease.
2) Consuming too much added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, both of which are pathological pathways to heart disease.
3) Excess consumption of sugar, especially sugary drinks, also contributes to weight gain by tricking your body into turning off its appetite-control system because liquid calories are not as satisfying as calories from solid foods. This is why it is easier for people to add more calories to their regular diet when consuming sugary drinks.
How you can reduce your sugar intake?
Reading food labels is one of the best ways to monitor your intake of added sugar. Look for the following names for added sugar and try to either avoid, or cut back on the amount or frequency of the foods where they are found:
• brown sugar
• corn sweetener
• corn syrup
• fruit juice concentrates
• high-fructose corn syrup
• invert sugar
• malt sugar
Also syrup sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose).
Check the total sugar of the product, which includes added sugar, this is usually listed in grams.
If it says 5 grams of sugar per serving, but the normal amount you would eat is three or four servings, you will easily consume 20 grams of sugar which is way too much.
Also, watch the amount of sugar or syrups you add to your food or drinks. About half of added sugar comes from adding it to coffee and tea. A study in the May 2017 Public Health found that about two-thirds of coffee drinkers and one-third of tea drinkers put sugar or sugary flavourings in their drinks. The researchers also noted that more than 60% of the calories in their beverages came from added sugar.
Planning to make sugar cuts?
Be careful when cutting back on added sugar as you may find yourself filling up on other foods to satisfy your sweet cravings. Foods like white bread, white rice and pasta can also increase glucose levels in addition to providing more sodium than you need so not ideal.
Really work at making healthy swaps:
- If you take sugar in your hot drinks cut down little by little to allow your taste buds to adjust.
- Don’t add jam ever day to your toast – if you are at increased health risk then think about choices that won’t spike your blood glucose, eggs are a good alternative and ditch the toast too.
If you are unsure of how to change your eating habits, or need help optimising the foods you eat please do contact us. We would love to help you or your family and friends with any nutrition related queries big or small.
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