HOW MUCH SUGAR IS TOO MUCH?
As a health and fitness professional, I often find myself asking clients to look at the amount of sugar in the foods they are eating, as many may contain ’too much’ sugar.
This inspired me to write about ‘how much sugar is too much’ and also to discuss the differences between processed/added and natural sugars
Eating too much sugar is linked to weight gain and is associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, tooth decay, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and others.
Added sugar is the most harmful ingredient in the modern diet.
It provides calories with no added nutrients and can damage your metabolism in the long run.
Added Sugars vs Natural Sugars — Big Difference
It is very important to make the distinction between added sugars and sugars that occur naturally in foods like fruits and vegetables. The latter also contain water, fibre and various micro-nutrients.
The type of sugars most adults and children in the UK eat too much of, are “free sugars”.
This added sugar is the main ingredient in many processed foods, such as biscuits, chocolate, flavoured yogurts, breakfast cereals and fizzy drinks.
The most common added sugars are regular table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup.
Sugar may be disguised on the ingredient label as glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, lactose, dextrose, starch, corn syrup, fruit juice, raw sugar, and honey, or a combination of them.
For optimal health, you should do your best to avoid foods that contain added sugars.
Some sugars occur naturally in foods but still count as free sugars, such as honey, syrups (such as maple, agave and golden), nectars (such as blossom), and unsweetened fruit juices, vegetable juices and smoothies.
Sugar found naturally in milk, fruit and vegetables does not count as free sugars.
How much Sugar is Safe to Eat Per Day?
So how much sugar should you eat every day? Can you eat a little bit of sugar each day without harm, or should you avoid it as much as possible?
There is no straight answer to this question. Some people can eat a lot of sugar without harm, while others should avoid it as much as possible.
The government recommends that free sugars should not make up more than 5% of the energy (calories) you get from food and drink each day.
This means an adult should have a maximum of between 25g to 40g of free sugars a day, depending on size and gender.
If you are healthy, lean and active, you’ll probably burn off these small amounts of sugar without them causing you any harm. But it’s important to recognise that there is no need for added sugars in the diet. The less you eat, the healthier you will be.
Nutrition labels and sugars
Look at the information on nutrition labels and ingredients lists to help reduce your intake of free sugars.
Nutrition information can be presented in different ways, including on the front and the back of packs.
Look for the “Carbohydrates, of which sugars” figure on the nutrition label.
While this does not tell you how much sugar in the product is free sugars, it’s a useful way of comparing labels and can help you choose foods that are lower in sugar overall.
Products are considered to either be high or low in sugar if they fall above or below the following thresholds:
HIGH: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
LOW: 5g or less of total sugars per 100g
Sometimes you’ll see a figure just for “Carbohydrate” and not for “Carbohydrate (of which sugars)”.
The “Carbohydrate” figure will also include starchy carbohydrates, so you cannot use it to work out the sugar content.
In this instance, check the ingredients list to see if the food is high in added sugar.
Tips to cut down on sugars
For a healthy, balanced diet, cut down on food and drinks containing free sugars.
These tips can help you to cut down:
Reducing sugar in drinks
- Instead of sugary fizzy drinks or sugary squash, go for water.
- Even unsweetened fruit juices and smoothies are sugary, so limit the amount you have to no more than 150ml a day.
- If you take sugar in hot drinks or add sugar to your breakfast cereal, gradually reduce the amount until you can cut it out altogether.
Reducing sugar in your food
- Rather than spreading high-sugar jam, marmalade, syrup, chocolate spread or honey on your toast, try a reduced-sugar jam or fruit spread, sliced banana or cream cheese instead.
- Try reducing the sugar you use in your recipes. It works for most things except jam, meringues and ice cream.
- Choose tins of fruit in juice rather than syrup.
- Choose unsweetened cereals that aren’t frosted or coated with chocolate or honey. Try adding some fruit for sweetness, which will contribute to your 5 a Day. Sliced bananas, dried fruit and berries are all good options.