Sugar – the bittersweet truth
Most of us know that consuming too much sugar is not good for our health. Food companies however, add sugar to a wide variety of foods which are consumed regularly by most people – drinks, cereals, snacks, yoghurts, sauces and processed foods are just some examples.
These added sugars increase calorie intake without adding nutritional value and as such, have been linked to weight gain, chronic inflammation and conditions such as high blood pressure, fatty liver and heart disease.
Eating whole foods that contain sugar is very different. Fruit does contain sugar, but it also contains fibre and antioxidants that are health promoting. The fibre in the fruit slows the absorption of the sugar into our blood and together with a high water content, means that the energy density (the amount of calories per mouthful) is low, keeping you fuller for longer.
In contrast, refined sugars found in food products like chocolate gets absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly, causing a sugar high, and inevitably a sugar crash where your blood sugar drops very low, leaving you hungry, irritable – and craving more sugar. This sugar rollercoaster isn’t good for us, and makes us reach for the types of foods that encourage us to overeat and gain weight.
- Avoid swapping sugar for sweetener in your hot drinks: This continues to encourage a taste for sweetness. It is better to gradually reduce the amount of sugar you add to your drinks, so for example, reduce by half every week until you can omit completely
- If you add sugar to your porridge/breakfast cereal, try using fruit instead. You can mash half a banana into your oats when cooking, or finely chop a couple of date, and/or top with berries. You can also do the same to your breakfast cereal
- Instead of reaching for a fizzy drink, try soda water with a splash of lime cordial, or chop up some kiwi and strawberries to add flavour
- Avoid marketed ‘low fat’ products, as these often contain high amounts of sugar to compensate
- Bake at home rather than buying cakes and biscuits: This way you can control how much sugar you add. Most recipes use far more sugar than is needed, so try reducing by ¼ to ½ You can also replace the sugar in some recipes with dried fruit, make a date paste by soaking and then blending dates, and you can also experiment with spices such as cinnamon, ground ginger and nutmeg to bring out the sweetness in food
- Prepare healthy snacks: It may be tempting to reach for a biscuit with your tea, especially if it is a long-instilled habit, but instead, try having a couple of medjool dates, or a banana. Other ideas are some chopped fruit with plant-based yoghurt and a sprinkle of cinnamon, raw vegetable sticks with humous, or a couple of squares of dark chocolate containing at least 70% cocoa solids
- Finally, remember that maple syrup, coconut sugar, date syrup, brown sugar and demerara sugar are all classed as added sugar, despite many unfounded health claims