Everyone I talk to these days seems to be doing some version or other of "going sugar-free". It's the latest in a whole raft of nutrition fads that everyone seems to be talking about. Fat's back in, and sugar is the newest villain on the block.
There is no denying that we all need to cut back on the amount of 'added' (or 'free') sugar in our diet. The latest draft WHO guidelines recommend that added sugars should be less than 10% of total energy intake per day. It further suggests that a reduction to below 5% of total energy intake per day would have additional benefits. Five per cent of total energy intake is equivalent to around 25 grams (around 6 teaspoons) of sugar per day for an adult of normal Body Mass Index (BMI). However, do we need to cut sugar out of our diet entirely?
Now bare with me while I get a little 'sciencey' here.....
...The term “sugars” is traditionally used to describe mono- and disaccharides. The monosaccharides include glucose, galactose, and fructose, while the disaccharides include sucrose, lactose, maltose, and trehalose.
The term "Dietary Sugars" includes:
“Naturally occurring” sugars which are found in whole unprocessed foods such as milk, legumes, whole grains, fruit and some vegetables. Therefore, natural sugars are found in most things we eat as part of a healthy balanced diet and should continue to eat. If someone is therefore to go “sugar-free”, they would then in fact be eliminating the majority of foods we eat and need to survive- ekkkkkk!
“Added” sugars on the other hand, are those added to processed food and drinks while they are being made, as well as sugar you may add to your food at home. These are the sugars we need to be wary of and the ones the WHO advises us to restrict.
Unfortunately “added” sugar is found everywhere in foods these days. It’s not only used to impart flavour to the food we eat but it is also used as a preservative and even a ‘filler’, which can make it pretty challenging when attempting to cut back on the 'added' sugar in your diet. Reading Food Labels including the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) and Ingredients List can help you to determine whether there has been any sugar added to your food. Remember sugar can be called a number of different things including;
words ending in "ose" including glucose, dextrose, fructose, maltose, hexose, lactose and sucrose
"sugar” – such as sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, icing sugar, castor sugar, coffee sugar, invert sugar, raw sugar
“syrup” such as corn syrup (corn syrup solids), glucose syrup (glucose syrup solids), high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, fruit sugar syrup
Maltodextrin, starch hydrolysate
Corn sweetener, malt, malt extract
Maple syrup, honey, molasses
All fruit juice, fruit juice concentrates and deionised fruit juice
However, rather than focusing on certain nutrients or ingredients on food labels, one of the simplest things we can do is to focus on eating foods from the 4 food groups – fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, milk and milk products (or its alternatives) and lean meats, chicken, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds.
I believe that rather than going “sugar-free” we need to look at focusing our nutritional efforts on including nutrient-dense foods such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, milk and milk products (or its alternatives), lean meats, chicken, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds and less on foods filled with the added “extras”, whether it be fat, salt or “added” (or FREE) sugars.
A preference for sweeter foods is something that we learn over time and therefore, so is the preference for less sweet tasting foods. Retraining your tastebuds to get used to a less sweet taste is a gradual process. While unsweetened or low sugar foods may taste a little tart or bland initially, your taste buds will eventually get used to the less sweet taste over time. Like with anything though changing a lifetime of habits, won’t happen over night!
Some simple tricks to help combat your sugar cravings include:
Fill up on nutrient dense meals and snacks which are based on foods from each of the 4 food groups. You’re less likely to give into your cravings if you’re feeling full after a nutritious meal.
Try drinking a herbal tea in place of something sweet to drink or have a herbal tea after your meals if you are still craving something sweet.
Try having a glass of water first. Sometimes when we think we are hungry, when in fact we are really thirsty.
Rather than opting for your usual sugary drink, try soda water with a dash of mint or a squeeze of lemon or lime.
If you’re having a craving for chocolate which can’t be tamed, have a couple of squares of 80% cocoa dark chocolate. It’s less sweet but still feels like a treat.
Cravings can often be bought on by a ‘trigger’ or habit. Try retraining yourself to work out why it is you feel as if you need something sweet. If you usually have something sweet after a meal, try brushing your teeth once you have finished your meal. If your cravings are at their peek when emotions are running high, look at another way of venting your feelings wether it be going for a walk, talking with family or friends or getting yourself away from the kitchen!
Be prepared. Often we turn to high sugar foods when we are after a quick fix or are in need of a burst of energy. Always ensure you have some nutritious snacks with you whether it be in the glove-box of your car, a drawer in your office or in your handbag or briefcase.
While there’s no denying it is important that we cut back on the ADDED sugars in our diet, it’s also important to have a positive relationship with food. I believe that we need to focus less on specific nutrients and more on the diet as a whole. As long as the vast majority of your diet is made up of foods from each of the four food groups, then you're on the right track.....