If you want to get fit and healthier for this Christmas and the years ahead, then cutting back on ‘added sugar’ is a good place to start.
What is sugar?
Put simply, sugars are forms of carbohydrate that are found in foods and drinks that provide the body with glucose, the body’s main source of energy.
Sugars occur naturally in many plant foods and are often also added during food processing to make a food sweeter, to change its colour or texture or to help with food preservation.1
- Natural (intrinsic) sugars can be found in fruit, some vegetables, milk and unsweetened milk products such as yoghurt.
- Added (extrinsic) sugars are found in processed food such as sugar sweetened beverages (SSB’s); coffee; tea; breakfast cereals; fruit drinks; baked products; flavoured yoghurt; sauces and condiments.
Sugar can also be added to foods that already naturally contain sugar, such as when we add sugar to stewed fruit, when preserving fruit or making jams.
Our body utilizes natural and added sugars in the same way. However, unlike added sugars, natural sugars also contain other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre so are healthier and more filling. Whereas added sugars lack nutrients, are quickly absorbed and usually high in calories. For example, a can of soft drink can contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar (160 calories) and no other nutrients.1
IN 2015 the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended a reduction in added sugar to no more than 5% (6 tsp/day).2 Reducing added sugar can help prevent and manage obesity; diabetes; coronary heart disease; high blood pressure and some cancer’s; reducing dental caries and gout and creating a healthier diet for us all.
Note: Reducing ‘added sugar’ doesn’t mean that we have to give up all carbohydrate foods ( e.g. fruits, vegetables, breads and grains) as these are important sources of dietary fibre, energy, vitamins and minerals. Rather that we all need to just have a better understanding of carbohydrate absorption and know how to control how much carbohydrate we consume.
Tips to reduce added sugars
Christmas can be a time of excess sugar consumption so here are a few ways that you can greatly reduce it.
1.Base you diet on minimally processed foods:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Wholegrain breads and cereals
- Unsweetened, fat-reduced milk and milk products (skim 1%,2%)
- Eat lean meat, poultry, fish, tofu, without commercial sauces or marinades. Instead try making your own using less sugar and salt.
- Legumes such as dried beans, peas, lentils
- Use vegetables oils in cooking and spreads.
- Including foods rich in dietary fibre such as fruits and vegetables, breads and cereals can help you to feel full for longer and reduce the need for sugar laden snacks.
2. Read food labels
Unfortunately at the moment food labels in New Zealand do not distinguish if the sugar in foods is natural or ‘added sugar’. Labels just display the words ‘sugar’ and carbohydrate. So if concerned talk to a Dietitian to learn about the different types of carbohydrate in your diet and how much you need for maintenance of energy for sport, growth and good health whatever your age.
- Check the order of ingredients list. If sugars are listed in the first few ingredients, then the sugar content is likely to be high.
- Sugars may be in the form of agave; brown or raw sugar; cane juice; corn syrup; caster sugar; demerara; dextrose; fructose; golden syrup; icing sugar; inert sugar; maltodextrin; maltose; malt syrup; maple syrup; molasses; fruit juice and concentrate; galactose; glucose, honey; nectar; sucrose; treacle and white sugar.
- Compare foods on 100g and choose the food with the lowest sugar content overall.
- Nutritional claims on food labels 3 are now regulated in Australia and NZ and these define sugar levels in the following ways:
–Low sugar foods are those that contain no more than 2.5g/100mls of liquid or 5g/100g solid.
–No added sugar means that no sugar has been added but natural sugars may still be present
– Unsweetened means no sugar has been added plus the food contains no intense sweeteners e.g. sorbitol, manitol, glycerol, xylitol, isomalt, maltitol syrup or lactitol.2
– ‘Free’ no detectable levels
3.Mind what you drink
It’s very easy to drink your sugar and kilojoules.
- Cut back on the teaspoons of sugar if you are adding these to tea and coffee or switch to a sugar substitute.
- Avoid flavoured lattes and specialty coffee or tea drinks.
- Fruit cocktails, nectars, punches, energy and SSB’s are all sugar laden. If drinking juice limit this to 125ml/ day or dilute with 5 parts water: 1 part juice.
- If drinking alcohol be mindful of the sugar added in mixes, juices, liqueurs and beers and look for those with a low kilojoule version, less alcohol and sugar.
- Make your own smoothies using fresh fruit with milk and vanilla (minus added ice-cream, honey or flavoured yoghurt)
4. Avoid sweetening breakfast cereals and fruits
- Avoid adding brown or white sugar, honey or syrups to porridge and cereals
- Try instead to serve oatmeal with fruit, chopped nuts or cinnamon
- Replace canned fruit in syrup with fresh fruit or unsweetened frozen fruit e.g. berries
- If stewing fruit try slowly cutting down the sugar that you add until you eventually you may find that you don’t need to add any at all.
- It’s easy to overeat fruit during summer months when berries, grapes and stone fruit are plentiful. To help control the intake of fructose (fruit sugar), limit fruit intake to 2-3 pieces per day.
5. Mind the snack foods
- Caramel covered popcorn, chocolate, confectionary, cakes and biscuits are all harmful to teeth and your weight.
- Try replacing these snacks with a small handful (30g) of unsalted nuts and seeds or make your own popcorn with added garlic or chilli powder.1
6. Make your own sauces, dressings, marinades and condiments
- Commercially made versions of these foods can be laden with extra sugar so try making your own using less sugar
- See Lea’s article on how to flavour your food with less salt and sugar.
7. Go easy on desserts, cakes, slices, icings, glazes, ice-cream and fudge
- Try sharing a dessert with someone else
- Replace ice-cream and cream with vanilla or Greek yoghurt
- Eat smaller servings of dessert and add some fruit
- Make the dessert yourself and use 25% less sugar.
- Make smaller (mini) Christmas mince pies this year
- Ice or glaze just half your Christmas cake this year, so your guests have a choice.
- Make your own rum balls this year using cereals instead of icing sugar and coconut (see Lea’s recipe)
- Cakes usually have three times more sugar than is found in a batch of muffins; fruit loaf; scones; or an uniced spiced bun.
Note: When an unsweetened or low-sugar option is unavailable, have a much smaller serving of the high sugar food than you would have had in the past.
If you would be interested in finding out how much of the carbohydrate in your diet is sugar related or you need to lower an elevated blood sugar or cholesterol level, then contact Lea for a nutritional assessment and advice.
Other articles by Lea that might be of interest
- Added Sugars; Healthy Eating Tips. Dietitians of Canada 2016
- Guideline: Sugar intake for adults and children. WHO March 2015 https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241549028
- Healthy kids, happy lives. Lea Stening 2017. Lea Stening Publishing