No, you don't need to give up sugar, but yes, it is important to clue yourself up on the facts
Sugar has gotten a bit of a bad wrap over the last few decades: research conducted over 15 years and published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal found that consuming lots of the sweet stuff can double your risk of heart disease, and increase your risk for Type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke, and Alzheimer's disease.
There's no denying that sugar isn't the most nutrient-dense of food groups, and yet, this Sugar Awareness week, we want to provide a bit of nutritional education for you. Clue yourself up on the simple nutrition need-t0-knows and you'll realise that you don't need to cut sugar out.
Yes, you read that right. Sugar is all too often demonised but, as with everything, if eaten in moderation, can be a part of any sustainable, balanced diet. Fruit, for example, is of course nutrient-dense despite containing sugar, as most fruits are also high in vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and fibre.
While cutting food groups out works for some (veganism is only growing), for others, omitting things that they enjoy from their diet can rob them of a lot of joy, freedom, and life experiences. You all know how it goes: restrict yourself and you'll just end up faceplanting the birthday cake next time you're left alone with one.
You're educated enough to know not to eat chocolate every day and haribo for breakfast, but did you know? Sugar can sneak its way into all sorts of foods and that's the sugar intake you need to be mindful of. Called 'hidden sugars', you'll find them in fizzy drinks, fruit juices, white bread products, and more.
To help cut through any confusion, we've enlisted the help of leading nutritionist Kim Pearson to advise on the simple ways you can sensibly reduce your sugar consumption , without skipping all the foods you love in the process. Keep reading for her top tips.
5 things to know about sugar
1. Read your labels
'A master of mystery, sugar likes to disguise itself under a host of different names on food packaging. Look out for dextrose, fructose, glucose, and sucrose, among others on your ingredients list, Kim advises.
The best way to easily tell just how much sugar is in your food? 'Look at the nutrition information table. This will clearly tell you how many grams of sugar there are per 100g, and knowing that there are around four grams of sugar in a teaspoon helps to put this number into perspective,' she explains.
2. Be mindful of the hidden sugars
PSA: a lot of everyday foods that you may not expect to contain sugar are actually loaded with the stuff. 'Breakfast cereals, so-called ‘healthy snack bars’ and soft drinks are all common culprits of being amongst the biggest sources of sugar in the average diet, and don’t forget alcoholic drinks, too. Cocktails are amongst the worst offenders here,' explains Kim.
She shares that it's tricky to say exactly which are the worst, as it depends on the recipe you use. 'Take mojitos for example. You can have a bartender who uses a couple of teaspoons, but another might pour in an obscene amount. I tend to recommend dry wines or champagne. Dry wine has under 5g of sugar per litre of wine, which means less than one teaspoon per bottle. You can mix dry white wine with soda water to make a spritzer which makes it last longer, too,' she recommends.
3. Clue yourself up on fruit
'Packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre, it’s easy to think that you can pack your diet with as much fruit as possible. But remember that many fruits are so sweet and delicious because they are pretty high in sugar,' she explains.
'Avoid fruit juices and dried fruits – a small 300ml Tropicana contains 26g of sugar (equivalent to 6.5 teaspoons) for example. Coconut and berries (think strawberries, raspberries and blueberries) have a lower sugar content that sweeter options like bananas and mango, so get to know which fruits to reach for,' the nutritionist advises.
4. Switch to a sweetener
'Sweeteners don't have the best reputation, but if you opt for a more natural sweetener, such as stevia or xylitol, you can cut your sugar intake without giving up that sweet fix,' she reckons.
Apparently, a stevia clicker can be handy for sweetening drinks, while xylitol is good for baking.
5. Beware of ‘no added sugar’ labels
This one sounds obvious, but is actually eye-opening.
'Many foods that are labelled as ‘no added sugar’ are actually already packed with the stuff. For example, an energy bar that contains a lot of dried fruit doesn’t need added sugar because it already contains a lot naturally,' she explains.
Kim emphasises remembering to read your labels carefully and not being sucked in by clever advertising. Hear, hear.
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Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, eight-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She regularly hosts panels and presents for things like the MC Sustainability Awards, has an Optimum Nutrition qualification, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw, with health page views up 98% year on year, too. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.
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