Just a Spoon Full of Sugar
Sugar has a long history of inclusion in the human diet – and for years there have been concerns over the effect thereof on the health status of individuals. It is estimated that by the time a child turns 8 years old today, they would have taken in the same amount of sugar as an adult would have in their entire lifetime a few decades ago.
It seems that we are finally realizing that every spoonful counts.
Sugar is everywhere around us: our carbohydrates are made up of sugar molecules, our fruits contain fructose, milk- products contain lactose. These are food items we all know have sugars in, and they definitely can form part of a healthy diet, but what about hidden sugars we do not know about? Sugar added to products to increase the sales thereof?
It is important to remember that sugar has no nutritional benefit whatsoever and is considered to be an “empty calorie”. It has been linked to obesity, hyperactivity disorders, diabetes, heart disease, gout, certain cancers, and dental caries - to name but a few. Sugar is also pro-inflammatory in the body, meaning that it creates a state of inflammation which can damage our cells and organs. Studies have also shown that sugar activates similar pathways in the brain that other addictive substances such as drugs do. No wonder giving up sugar is one of the most difficult things to do!
A recent systematic review concluded that there is a direct link between the intakes of sugar or sugar sweetened beverages and body weight (BMJ, 2013). When these sugar calories were replaced by other carbohydrates, the same effect was not found – indicating that, for some reason, sugar seems to be the culprit.
So, how much sugar is too much? At the beginning of this year, the World Health Organization changed their international guidelines on sugar intake. They have now proposed that a maximum of 5% of total calories in the diet come from sugar (decreased from 10%). This is the equivalent of about 6 teaspoons of sugar in total from food and beverages if consuming a 2000 calorie diet.
Six teaspoons of sugar might sound like a lot, but let’s put that into context.
Most breakfast cereals contain anywhere from 2 to 11 teaspoons of sugar per 100g. Fruit contains between 1 - 4 teaspoons per 100g (considered good sugars, but still sugars). Energy drinks such as Red Bull contain about 7 teaspoons per 250ml, vitamin water contains around 8 teaspoons per 590ml bottle, Iced Tea and orange juice has around 6 teaspoons per 240ml. One tablespoon of tomato sauce has 1 teaspoon of sugar, and an Oat Health Bar of 40g has 2 teaspoons of sugar in.
In the past, fat free products were considered the golden standard, but new research shows that these products are often laced with sugar in order to increase the palatability thereof - 1 tub of fat free yoghurt contains around 3 teaspoons of sugar.
So, what can you as the consumer do? Besides trying to cut out on added sugar such as those found in chocolates, sweets, tea, coffee, cereals and processed food products – it is becoming increasingly important to read our food labels.
In South Africa, our product ingredient list is in descending order. If the words sugar, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, or sucrose is listed as one of the first ingredients in the ingredient list, you know you are buying a sugar concoction, and it is probably best left on the shelf of the supermarket.
It is also important that we become aware of the foods that we are choosing, and that we do not only think of sugar intake as a diabetic’s problem, or only applicable to those wanting to lose weight, but really something that affects every single one of us.
Food is to be enjoyed, but when it comes to sugar, a little bit goes a long way.