Most people are aware that sugar can destroy our health. Two much sugar can lead to many health concerns – cancers, diabetes, acne, mood swings, weight gain, depression, headaches, dental problems and many other conditions.
When trying to cut out sugar many people automatically think of sweets, chocolate and soft drinks. However, they do not realise that a lot of the (processed, packaged or refined) food that is marketed to us as “healthy,” “pure,” “natural” and “organic” actually contains a lot of hidden sugars. These foods which we perceive as healthy are actually ruining our health.
As a result of these hidden sugars, it’s important that we are able to read food labels. Of course the best option is eating those foods which do not contain food labels i.e. fresh fruits/veggies and wholefoods but obviously we can’t live on these foods all the time.
In 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) thankfully reduced the recommended sugar intake in adults by half – from 10% of total daily calories to 5%. This equates to around six teaspoons a day for women, nine teaspoons for men and three teaspoons for kids. However, many people are still consuming much more than the recommended intake. To put it in perspective, one can of soft drink contains around nine to ten teaspoons of sugar – that’s more than an adults daily quota.
An easy way of calculating sugar content in food is to remember that 1 teaspoon of sugar weighs four grams.
1tsp sugar = 4g
When you look at a food label, sugar is listed under carbohydrates – in other words how much carbohydrate in the product comes from sugar.
Additionally, ingredients are listed in order by weight – the first listed ingredient is the largest ingredient. With this in mind, it is good to avoid those foods where sugar is listed as one of the first ingredients (or better yet, avoid foods where sugar is included within the ingredients).
Another point to note is that sugar can be listed in various ways and manufacturers can use different descriptions of added sugar within the ingredients list – examples include corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, raw sugar, cane sugar, invert sugar, maltose.
The below foods are often marketed as ‘healthy’ but contain hidden sugars. Watch out for these and use the tips above when reading food labels of these grocery items.
- Muesli bars
- Packaged sauces/dressings
- Flavoured yogurt
- Low fat products
As a quick example of the effects of sugar let’s consider Damon Gameau in “That Sugar Film.” The ultimate sugar experiment where Damon who had not eaten sugar for years, ate upwards of 40 teaspoons of sugar per day. However, please note that Damon’s sugar intake was purely through those foods perceived as being healthy i.e. not soft drink, lollies and ice cream but instead fruit juice, muesli bars, low fat products and cereals. By the end of the experiment he “put on 8.5 kilograms, developed pre type 2 diabetes and heart disease risks, had an extra 10 centimetres of the dangerous visceral fat around (my) belly and noticed an enormous impact on (my) moods and cognitive functions.” The objective of the documentary was to make a film that was fun and accessible so the whole family could enjoy it. The response from this film was overwhelming. The final message in this film “eat real food.”
Obviously moderation is key and of course we can indulge in treats every now and again but it’s important to consider how much sugar and hidden sugars you are consuming. But if you find that you are eating too much sugar resulting in any of the conditions I initially mentioned, it may be time to cut down on this sweet indulgence. The easiest way to monitor your sugar intake is stick to natural whole foods where possible which means you won’t have to worry about reading food labels.
Hopefully this will help you when selecting foods and reading labels moving forward.
P.S. If you would like to discuss how you can reduce sugar in your diet, chat through eating habits or health goals, I would love to work with you one-on-one. I practice a holistic approach where I consider your individual needs related to health in terms of both nutrition and aspects of your lifestyle. We can work together and look at how all parts of your life affect your health and make sustainable changes that improve your health and happiness. Find out more