SUGAR IS A PROBLEM
Sugar is a problem. In fact, it's such a harmful problem that in 2018 the UK passed the Sugar Tax, to tackle childhood obesity by taxing soft drinks. Whilst the Government continues to plea with manufacturers to reduce sugar in other food categories has seen some reduction, it is still nowhere near the 20% target, an insignificant outcome in the grand scheme of the problem. The latest 2019 Public Health England Report analysing progress made between 2015 - 2018, saw a mere 0.8% improvement for in home consumption and 1.8% for out of home consumption in relation to change in calories per portion by food category; including biscuits, breakfast cereals, chocolate, ice cream and lollies, puddings, sweet spreads and sauces, sweets, yoghurt, cake and morning goods.
Sugar, is everywhere. Sugar is in almost every food item you could think of that is manufactured, pre-prepared, shop bought or cooked for you by restaurants. The main reason is because they are selling a product that needs to taste great! Otherwise you wouldn't buy them again, and therefore, they tend to contain higher amounts of free sugar.
Same thing, different name
Free sugar describes the addition of simple carbohydrate sugars (monosaccharides and disaccharides) to food. It also includes extrinsic sugars found naturally in honey, syrups and fruit juices. Extrinsic means the sugars are extracellular, I like to use the orange example; think of a piece of orange segment, all the juice and sweetness is contained within the walls of its skin, the sugars are an intrinsic part of the plant's cells. Once the orange has been juiced and its sugar is squeezed out, it becomes free sugar.
As awareness of sugar's impact on health has increased, manufacturers have found sneaky ways of misleading consumers by labelling sugar with alternative names. The following are examples of synonyms for free sugar: sugar, syrup, raw sugar, icing sugar, cane juice, coconut sugar, fructose, sucrose, galactose, lactose, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, honey, treacle, caramel.
What does this mean? It means a naturally derived source of sugar such as cane juice or maple syrup is still free sugar and are sweetening ingredients added to foods. Don't be fooled! Watch out for these names on food labels.
The UK recommendation is to limit free or added sugar consumption to 5% of total daily energy intake. This is the equivalent to 25 - 30g of sugar for the average UK adult. To put it into perspective, a 330ml can of regular Coca Cola contains approximately 35g of sugar! Children are currently consuming around 3 times the daily recommendation, and adults around double. Diets high in free sugars may lead to tooth decay, weight gain, type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, inflammation, cancer and heart disease.
Children who are overweight are far more likely to experience health problems in their adult life, and are far more likely to suffer from obesity.
10 ways to reduce free sugar
Eat more whole foods and stay hydrated - diets rich in fruit, vegetables, fish, lean meat, beans & legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, wholewheat and fibre keep you feeling fuller for longer, stabilise blood sugar and balance hormones, leaving you less likely to experience sugar cravings.
Keep a food diary and pay closer attention to food labels - identifying any patterns of eating that include high sugar foods will allow you to make a conscious and intentional plan of action.
Swap sugary soft drinks for no or low sugar alternatives such as Coke Zero or Diet Coke. Ideally reduce the frequency of artificially sweetened soft drinks as even sweeteners can increase sugar cravings.
Reduce sugar in sweet teas and coffees - if you are used to very sweet hot drinks, look to reduce slowly. E.g. from 2 tsp sugar to 1.5 tsp and when you become accustomed to this level of sweetness, reduce by half a tsp again and again. Making slow and small changes will increase your success.
Replace sweets and chocolates with foods high in natural sugar such as fresh fruit, dried fruit, dark chocolate and chocolate or yoghurt covered fruit and nuts.
Limit fruit juice to no more than one 250ml glass per day and choose to eat whole fruits instead, they contain much more fibre and retain its natural sugars.
Choose plain, natural and greek yoghurt instead of flavoured or sweetened yoghurts, add your own fresh fruits and honey, where you can control the quantity.
Make your own sweets, cakes, biscuits and desserts - homemade versions of your favourite sweet foods are often lower in sugar than shop bought, and you are in full control of how much sugar is added.
Reduce high-sugar condiments and sauces such as ketchup, BBQ sauce and honey mustard dressing. Choose low-sugar options, have smaller amounts or flavour food with spices, herbs, pickles, olive oil and vinegars.
Choose low-sugar cereals, or try mixing half and half to start with. Opt for whole grain varieties such as oats, muesli, shredded whole wheat and bran flakes.