The truth about sugar…

There is one nutrient that always seems to stand out as the bad guy and is continuously getting a bad reputation in the media, sugar! However, before you start cutting it out of your diet, let’s find out a little bit more about it.

What is sugar?

There are around 56 possible names for sugar, ranging from cane sugar to agave nectar to beet sugar. But what are the different types? Are there any that are better for us than others?

The sugar you have probably heard the most of is glucose. Glucose in a monosaccharide and is used by the body for energy. Fructose naturally found in fruits is also a monosaccharide and is converted into glucose in our bodies.

Galactose is a monosaccharide found in milk and when composed with glucose becomes the disaccharide lactose. The sugars naturally found in milk don’t count as free sugars.

The sugar that most households have in their cupboards is white table sugar which is usually added to cooking, baking and hot drinks, this is a ‘free’ or ‘added’ sugar. This type of sugar is a disaccharide called sucrose. Sucrose is composed of monosaccharides glucose and fructose and usually comes from cane and beet plants.

Why do we need sugar?

There are three different forms of carbohydrates that are found in food: fibre, starch and sugar. Carbohydrates are a major source of energy in the diet and provide around 4kcal per gram. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (sugar) and then absorbed into the bloodstream. Insulin then helps the glucose enter the body’s cells and is then used as energy. Any unused glucose is then converted into glycogen which is found in the liver and muscles. It is only when there is excess glucose that cannot be stored as glycogen that it then converts into fat, ensuring there is ‘back up’ energy.

What sugars should we be reducing?

SACN (Science Advisory Committee on Nutrition) carried out research and produced a comprehensive report on carbohydrates. From this study the Government identified that the UK population should try to cut down on free sugars, these include any sugars added to food and drinks. Examples of foods containing free sugars are chocolates, biscuits, flavoured yogurts and soft drinks. Whether that be at home, by a chef or a food manufacturer. Sugars in honey, syrups (such as agave, maple) nectars and unsweetened fruit juices and smoothies all contain naturally occurring free sugars and should be eaten in moderation.

A big trend for people when it comes to the new year or ‘holiday diets’ is juicing. This can be anything from days to weeks consisting of consuming nothing but juices. The idea behind this may have started with good intentions, you are contributing to your 5 a day and consuming lots of vitamins and minerals after all. However, you are consuming a lot of free sugars when fruit or vegetables are blended/juiced and you may lose some of the fibre which can help keep the gut happy. Public Health England recommend that we limit our fruit juice and smoothie intake to around 150ml per day to limit the free sugars in our diet.

Why should we limit our sugar intake?

The SACN report concluded that the public would benefit from consuming less free sugars and here is why:

  • A greater risk of tooth decay
  • Increased risk of type two diabetes when consuming too many sugary drinks
  • High sugar foods can contribute to eating too many calories which can lead to weight gain

Sugars that are excluded from ‘free sugars’ are sugars naturally found in fruits and vegetables, grains and cereals as well as lactose present in milk and dairy products.

How much sugar should we be having?

Since the SACN report the Government suggest that we should be getting no more than 5% of our calories each day from ‘free sugars’ that equates to around 30g per day for an adult. To put a little context behind that, it is approximately 7 cubes of sugar.

Although limiting free sugars is recommended there is nothing wrong with a sweet treat now and again, you should never feel guilty for having a bit of what you fancy. So, if you want the dessert then have the dessert!

The sugar verdict:

  • A little bit of sugar will not do you any harm just try to eat the ‘free sugars’ in moderation.
  • Do not be afraid of fructose in fruits when they are in their original form, they are great sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre and are less likely to cause tooth decay than free sugars.
  • Think twice about those expensive ‘healthier alternatives’ to sugar such as agave syrup and nectars they are the same number of calories per gram to table sugar and our body processes it the same way. Generally, to get the health benefits that come with these alternatives you would have to eat them in large quantities.
  • Check the labels and ingredients list when it comes to buying sugary products, the NHS website has some great tips on this.
  • Sugar is not the ‘latest drug’ it has not been scientifically proven to be addictive in humans.
  • Remember no food is toxic. Before you think about cutting all sugars out of your diet have a look at your overall diet, if you consume too many free sugars then maybe take small, steady steps to cut down rather than going cold turkey.

If you want to chat through any of the above with me then please get in touch.

Sarah x

Photo cred:

References: BDA, NHS and SACN Report

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