Why is there so much added sugar in food?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that only 5% of your daily sugar content should consist of added sugars. This is equal to around 30g or seven sugar cubes. Furthermore, children aged 4 to 6 years old should consume a maximum of 19g a day, or 5 sugar cubes, and no more than 24g (6 sugar cubes) for children aged 7 to 10. There are two types of sugar- naturally occurring sugars such as those found in fruit or milk and added sugars or “free sugars.” It is these added sugars that are becoming a growing concern for many countries around the world, contributing to weight problems as well as health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and even cancer, which are the world’s top three killers.
So why do we eat so much sugar even though we know it is so damaging to us? Even those without a sweet tooth will be eating more sugar than they realise because so many foods contain an absurdly high amount of sugar, from flavoured water to ready-made sauces, soups and even cereal! Some of the big culprits include fruit juices, fizzy drinks, sweets and yoghurts. On average, a can of soft drink contains the equivalent of seven teaspoons of sugar! One of the main problems is that processed foods we eat contain added sugar in the form of calories and nothing else, so we end up consuming more than we actually need. This affects our health including our immunity to bugs and colds. However, if you’re very active and exercise regularly, the sugar you consume supplies energy to your muscles instead of turning into fat, and this helps to keeps your brain active.
Try to spot the hidden sugar in foods by checking on the back of packaging for the nutritional information. Anything ending with “ose”- glucose, sucrose, lactose, and maltose are all forms of sugar; honey and syrups such as corn and rice syrups are also sugars. The higher up the ingredient is on the list, the more the product contains. Also, 5g of sugar per 100g is low; more than 22.5g of sugar per 100g is high, so it is advisable to try to aim for the “low” category. Another point to make is that “low- fat” and “diet” foods often contain extra sugar to improve their palatability in the place of fat.
Many people will be wondering how they can cut down on the amount of added sugars they eat and become healthier. One way is by gradually reducing the sugar you add to hot drinks; try adding some cinnamon instead of sugar, which helps stabilise blood sugar levels and adds flavour instead of sweetness. Avoid “sugar-free” and “diet” foods which, although they taste sweet, often contain synthetic sweeteners such as sucralose, saccharin and aspartame. This tends to send confusing messages to the brain, which causes over- eating and definitely don’t help control a sweet tooth! Alternatively, balance your carbohydrate intake with lean protein such as fish, chicken and turkey- protein foods slow stomach emptying, which helps manage cravings. Reducing the sugar in recipes and adding spice to boost the flavour and taste will also help. For a healthy energy boost, have a piece of fresh fruit with a handful of nuts or some plain natural yoghurt.