Sugar – a guide
There is so much information about sugar in the media at the moment that I thought I’d gather the information and write an overview. I hope you will find this helpful!
Sugar is everywhere. The problem is the added sugar in food we consume without realising it!
What is sugar?
Sugar is one form of carbohydrate (‘carbs’). Carbs are one of the main food groups that make up a balanced diet (the others are protein and fat). Carbs like the other two groups are a form of energy and we need to consume the right amount of it. Too little carbs can lead to low blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia) which can make you irritable and lack concentration. Too much carbohydrate can lead to physiological changes that, in the short-term can make you sleepy (for example after a sugar rush) and in the long-term can lead to diabetes as well as other health problems. Eating too much sugar is a major problem in the UK and other countries.
Are some carbs better than others?
Bread, rice, pasta and couscous are high in carbs. But sugar is a simple carb (the body digests it very quickly causing blood sugar spikes and following that a drastic drop) complex carbs such as starches take longer to break down, hence there is a slower rise in blood sugar levels. An added benefit of wholegrain starches is that they contain more nutrients and fibre.
How much sugar is ok?
A balanced diet should contain of 50% carbohydrates (30-35% fat & 15-20% protein) of which only 20% should be simple carbs (sugar). So overall no more than 10% of our daily energy intake should come from sugar. Although a new study in 2015 suggested we halve this amount and only 5% should come from sugar. This is the first study since 1990 and it has become more and more evident that sugar can have a detrimental impact on our health. So, we should try and make sure that the carbs we consume come mainly from complex carbs.
Are all types of sugar the same?
Some sugar is naturally present in food, milk and dairy products contain lactose and fruit contains fructose. But sugar is added to a lot of foods and drinks in various forms. Cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolate, fizzy drinks are obvious culprits but added or ‘free’ sugar is also hidden in everyday staples like bread, cereals, soup, yoghurt, table sauces. Also included in this is honey, syrup and unsweetened fruit juice. For example a standard can of Coke contains more sugar than the guideline daily amount! Added sugar is just empty calories – it does not contain any nutrients at all!
What’s wrong with too much sugar?
Firstly, consuming too much sugar will rot your teeth. The sugar in foods and drinks react with the bacteria in plaque, forming acids that soften and dissolve the enamel. Another issue is that too much sugar consumption will lead to increased weight (half the UK population is already overweight or obese). Any sugar your body cannot use immediately as energy is stored by the body in the liver and muscles to use later. Once these stores are full any excess will be converted into body fat. If you are overweight you are more likely to develop coronary heart disease. It can also raise your blood cholesterol levels, increase your blood pressure and increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. If you have diabetes you are 5x more likely to develop heart disease or stroke. High blood glucose levels can also cause nerve damage, affecting fingers and toes for example. Also, there is a risk of serious, eye problems, impotence, kidney disease and kidney failure. There are links between type 2 diabetes and an increased risk of pancreatic, liver and endometrial cancer.
If you’re worried and want to get your glucose levels checked you can ask your doctor. You might need to pay for it. Some companies offer free health checks for their employees.
But even if your glucose levels are ok now this can change over time so keeping an eye on your sugar intake is important.
The key is to make a few simple changes to improve your overall diet by reducing your (added/free) sugar intake, doing this should give you more energy and make you more productive.
Make sure you check the label! Following the traffic light labelling on the front of most foods will give you a good indication but to make sure check the ingredients list on the back, ideally you don’t want any added sugar (and they will try and hide it as fructose/ glucose/ syrup etc) but if there is any make sure it’s way down the list, the ingredients have to be listed by amount.
A few examples:
|Item||Sugar in g||Sugar in tsp|
|Cadbury Diary Milk Kids 18g||10g||2.5|
|Haribo sweets tangfastic mini bag approx. 16g||12g||3|
|Activia 125g Yogurt Strawberry||16.6g||4|
|Ribena 250ml (diluted 1 to 4 parts)||26||7|
You can find more information on these websites:
4-6 years – max 19g sugar/ day = 5 cubes = 4-5tsp
7-10 years – max 24g sugar/ day = 6 cubes = 5-6tsp
11 year + (incl adults) – max 30g sugar/ day = 7 cubes = 6-7tsp