It’s been a hot topic for years now with many high profile identities flying the sugar-free flag. But before you decide to cut sugar entirely out of your life, it’s important to understand the good and bad sugars, where to find them and how our body reacts to each. Only then, can you make an informed decision about where you sit on this widely debated topic.
What is sugar?
The term sugar can be used to refer to all types carbohydrates, including: glucose (found in grains and vegetables), fructose (in fruit and honey), lactose (the carbohydrate in dairy products), and sucrose (cane or table sugar).
What’s the bad sugar?
- Sucrose, also known as cane sugar
- High fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
Both these sugars are refined and highly processed. They’re what you find in many commercial and packaged foods such as cereals, confectionary, jams, flavoured yoghurt and ice cream.
Many labels disguise sugar under alternate names such as maltitol, molasses, corn syrup and maltose. When buying a product, always be savvy in decoding the label.
What’s the good sugar?
Unrefined fructose is a natural source found in fruits, nuts, dairy, vegetables, seeds, wholegrains like rolled oats and legumes, which make up a healthy diet and power cells for growth, repair, movement and reproduction.
In nature, wherever you find fructose you’ll find fibre and this is how fructose should be consumed. Mostly absorbed in the intestines, sugar is delivered into the blood stream and sent to the liver. When you consume sugar with fibre, it’s slowly released into the body, and into the blood stream, leaving you feeling satisfied for longer.
Be careful of refined fructose found in processed foods such as sauces, chips and canned food, which also have large quantities of added sugars to extend shelf life and have very little fibre.
What about artificial sweeteners?
Found in many “sugar-free” products, artificial sweeteners are synthetic supplements with extremely low calorie amounts. There are no conclusions as yet about whether they can be harmful in other ways, so much like sugar, best to err on the side of caution. If you need to sweeten, try using brown rice syrup or coconut sugar.
How much sugar should I eat?
The World Health Organisation recommends keeping your added sugar intake to less than 10% of your total calorie intake per day. What does that look like? If you’re following a 1200-calorie-a-day diet, less than 120 calories or 30g of sugar should be coming from added sugars. A 375ml can of coke has 40g of these added sugars! For most adults, it works out to be no more than 50g or 12 teaspoons of sugar per day (1 teaspoon holds about 4g of sugar), from all sources of food and drink. However, Australians currently consume about 30 teaspoons of sugar a day on average — more than double the recommended amount.
The problem with sugar is when consuming too much, the body ends up with excess “fuel” and the liver can’t store it, turning it into fat. Sugar, is in fact a fantastic source of energy when used in the form of glucose alongside fats, carbs and proteins.
When you understand what forms sugar takes and where it’s found, this knowledge should arm you with the tools to make educated decisions around intake and will result in less added sugar to your diet. There’s no need to cut out sugar altogether, but reducing your intake to a safe level will reap huge benefits for your health and weight.