Sugar is given a lot of bad press in the headlines as a food that should be struck from the diet, but naturally occurring sugary foods that are healthy such as fruit are also given a raw deal. Whilst there is a lot of misleading information out there, it is known that too much added sugar can have effects on weight gain and type 2 diabetes, which can in turn lead to heart disease. It is also known that naturally sweet foods such as fruit and milk have a lot of health benefits.
It is now recommended that ‘free’ sugars that are either added to foods and drinks or eaten in its simplest form such as honey, syrups, unsweetened fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies and purées should make up less than 5% of your daily energy needs. For adults and children over the age of eleven this is around 30g per day and about the equivalent to an average chocolate bar, a 250ml smoothie or seven sugar cubes.
If you want to look after your waistline, teeth, heart and arteries it’s important that you wise up on healthier sugars so you don’t miss out on essential vitamins and fibre but get on track for a healthier, happier, longer life.
Give fruit the thumbs up
It is well known that having your 5-a-day helps to keep your heart healthy; this does include at least two 80g portions of fruit, with the rest made up of vegetables. Fruit sugar (fructose) has a bad name in its refined form as this can cause insulin peaks associated with weight gain. On the flipped side, when bathed in its natural fibrous surroundings like the flesh and skin of an apple, the fibre helps to release these sugars more slowly and lower cholesterol and the flesh provides an abundance of vitamins and antioxidants which help to protect your heart and arteries. So don’t be afraid to get your teeth into a variety of colourful fruits and instead cut back on other sugary foods such as sweets, fizzy drinks and chocolate.
Go for the green light
Look out for those all-important labels in the supermarket that give you the know-how on being sugar savvy. The traffic light system is great for giving us information about the amount of sugar per 100g in food, but can be confusing. The light may be on red for total sugars but it doesn’t tell you the difference between refined or ‘free’ sugars and those that are naturally occurring and healthy as part of a balanced diet. Look out for ‘added sugar’ on the ingredients list which could include other terms such as hydrolysed starch, maize syrup or anything with ‘ose’ on the end and take extra caution if they’re high up on the list as these could have consequences for your heart.
Rough around the edges
Everybody loves a glass of refreshing orange juice in a morning and whizzing up a smoothie can be trendy, but go steady with the blitzing. Once fruit has been crushed and broken down into smaller pieces it releases the sugars more easily and makes them quicker to be absorbed in our gut. This can reduce all of the fantastic benefits of fruit and have similar effects to other types of sugars when drank in excess. Recommendations for fruit in its liquid form is one 150ml glass per day, which will boost your 5-a-day but the rest must be eaten whole to get all of the benefits.
We’re more prone to mistakes when out socialising or going about our hectic work lives so get sugar smart by using apps when you’re out and about and planning ahead with snacks and drinks for work. Some studies have found sugary hot drinks to contain nearly three times the recommendations; find alternatives by using different flavourings such as cinnamon or adding a splash of natural fruit juice. Watch your portions when eating out, share a dessert socially or choose lower sugar yoghurt and fruit varieties and reduce the frequency of visits to the coffee and cake shop.