Earlier this month I gave a talk on sugar to a very attentive audience (including a teenager!), and they all left with the resolve to cut down on this very harmful substance. Sugar is finally being acknowledged for the serious impact that it is having on our nation’s health. There are of course the obvious links with obesity and tooth decay, but it is also being implicated in cardiovascular disease, liver disease and cancer. And the problem is that it is found in a wide range of processed foods, and many of us are unaware of the quantities we are consuming each day.
The World Health Organisation has recently issued new guidelines on sugar consumption and recommends that we derive no more than 10% of our daily energy intake from free sugars (added sugars and those found in fruit juices, syrups and honey). This roughly equates to 12 teaspoons per day. They had wanted to set the guidelines at 5% of daily energy intake, but have conceeded that this could be unrealistic for a society so reliant on packaged foods, with a taste for sweet foods.
Sugar is addictive as any of you who regularly consume it will know. So what can we do to diminish our desire for it? Here are my top tips to cut down your sugar intake:
- It is important that you balance your blood sugar levels before you start to cut down your sugar intake, otherwise you may find that you are battling with sugar cravings. Balanced blood sugar levels can (in a nutshell) be achieved through eating regularly, having protein with complex carbohydrates, and cutting down on your caffeine intake. The zest4life programme that I run is all about balancing blood sugar levels if you want to find out more.
- Keep a food diary to find out what your current consumption levels are. My Fitness Pal is a great, free, online tool, with a huge database of foods, which makes it really simple to monitor your sugar intake. Once you have kept a diary for 3-4 days you will have a good insight into where the sugar in your diet lurks.
- Start reading food labels. There are 54 names for sugar, so start to look out for glucose, fructose, maltose, sucrose, honey, syrups, molasses and fruit juice concentrates. Ingredients are listed in weight order so if sugar is featured early on in the list, it’s likely to be a food item that is high in sugar
- Be aware that a food that is greater than 15g of sugar per 100g is high in sugar, and use this as your benchmark when selecting foods
- Use the Foodswitch App. This free tool enables you to scan barcodes of food items and suggests healthier alternatives.
- Bake sweet treats using healthy alternatives to white refined sugar, such as maple syrup, honey, xylitol and stevia.
- Bake more regularly so that you have a supply of healthier, homemade treats in the house, and are less reliant on shop bought sugar, trans fat and preservative laden products.