The dangers of eating too much sugar have been in the news recently and some experts have declared sugar as dangerous as smoking. So how much sugar is acceptable in the diet, what are the worse kinds of sugar and how do you wean yourself off it?
How much sugar is too much? According to the UK NHS, we shouldn't get more than 10% of our calories from sugar, however, more active people, or heavier people can probably get away with eating slightly more.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that women should consume a maximum of 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day (100 calories) and men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons (150 calories) per day.
Different Types of Sugar
Sugars come in many guises including sucrose, glucose, glucose syrup fructose, high fructose corn syrup, maltose, invert sugar syrup and natural forms such as lactose, fructose and honey. Often, there will be more than one type of sugar in some products - even the products that are supposed to be better for you.
Some products can contain three to four different types of sugar and this is despite them being sold as a healthier alternative.
The Effects of Too Much Sugar
Eating an excessive amount of sugar can lead to a person developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, tooth decay, and as many high-sugar foods often contain a lot of calories, they can also lead to weight gain.
Eating too much sugar can also lead to the blood glucose levels fluctuating, leading to a lack of energy and low moods.
Including Sugary Foods in the Diet
While sugary foods can be enjoyed occasionally, they shouldn't be eaten every day. Many people will start the day with a sugary cereal. Lunch can often be a shop brought sandwiches, which will more often than not contain added sugar. A fizzy drink to go with lunch will contain up to eight teaspoons of sugar in each serving, and if some chocolate is included, then that will increase the sugar content further still; convenience meals eaten in the evening will nearly always have sugar added.
A lot of people will also snack throughout the day, and these will often be high in both sugar and fat.
However, these foods don't need to be avoided completely, just reign in how much you eat and when you eat them. If you are going to eat a high-sugar breakfast cereal for energy then have some protein with it to help regulate the blood sugars.
When eating snacks, add something high fibre or some protein to help curb the blood sugar spike; if you must have an extra sweet dessert, then just have a little bit of it.
The Best and Worst Sugars
The worst kinds are the added sugars; the best kinds are the naturally occurring sugars such as fructose and lactose. These don't have the same impact on the glucose levels so they are much better for you.
Another thing to be wary of is eating excessive amounts of white breads and products made with white flour, as these will also make the blood sugars soar.
Curbing the Sugar Cravings
It might seem like an impossible task if the first thing you do when you are hungry is reach for a chocolate bar, but here's some tips to help combat sugar cravings.
The fact is high-sugar foods give our blood sugars a boost, which will lift the mood and make us feel good. The blood sugar will then fall, which will leave people feeling low and with less energy, so often they will reach for something sugary again in order to feel good.
To avoid this see-saw effect on the glucose levels, start the day with a slow releasing form of sugar such as porridge, muesli, granary toast or oatmeal.
All the other meals should be based on complex carbohydrates with protein added to help regulate glucose levels.
Cutting down on Sugar
If the aim is to cut down on sugar, then look for the many reduced sugar alternatives that are now available. Products like diet drinks or sugar free squashes are better than the high-sugar version, and many cereal manufacturers make lower sugar products.
The diet versions of products often have sweeteners in the place of sugar, but they may also contain extra fat.
If getting healthy food at work is difficult, then bring in some healthy snacks such as fruit, nuts, seeds, and oatcakes.
Baking your own goods and sweetening them with juice or another kind of sugar substitute and cooking meals from scratch when you can are both excellent ways to reduce sugar.
There are pros and cons for all of the different sugar substitutes. Overall, it is best to stay away from the ones with the most artificial ingredients; Sucralose is becoming increasingly popular and doesn't affect the blood sugar level.
Sugar alcohols should be kept at an absolute minimum as if eaten in excess they can begin to affect glucose control.
For many drinks and recipes adding pure natural honey instead of granulated sugar is an excellent healthy alternative.
By Romain Behar (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
September 27, 2012