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Is all sugar bad?

Sugar has become public enemy #1 in Australia. In our effort to consume less saturated fat we’ve often turned to low fat foods that can actually be loaded with sugar.

In its natural state, sugar is a necessary carbohydrate that our bodies need to function. The problem with sugar arises when too much is consumed or it’s excessively added to foods during processing for flavour, texture, or colour—and unfortunately this is far more common than you may realise.

When carbohydrates are eaten they are broken down by the body into sugar (glucose) and released into the blood. Carbohydrates are found in a range of foods including:

• Breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles
• Fruit including fresh, tinned, dried, frozen, juice
• Starchy vegetables (potato, sweet potato, corn, etc.)
• Legumes (baked beans, kidney beans, lentils, etc.)
• Dairy (milk, yoghurt, ice-cream, custard, etc.)

Many of these foods are minimally processed and healthy and do not need to be avoided. They also provide other important nutrients like fibre, protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and B-vitamins.

However sugar is also found in:

• Sweets and confectionary (lollies, chocolate, etc.)
• Soft drinks, cordials and other sweetened beverages
• Processed and baked goods (pastries, doughnuts, biscuits, cakes, slices, muesli bars, etc.)

Our bodies run primarily on glucose—but problems can arise when the food is processed or when it adds very little nutrition to the diet. These are known as empty or non-nutritive calories.

Eating too many of these empty calories has many health effects; the most obvious being major weight gain and tooth decay. Too much added sugar drives insulin levels up, messes with your metabolism, and causes those calories to turn into stored fat. And while losing weight is great, it’s just the beginning of the health benefits of cutting back on the sweet stuff.

A good test is to ask yourself what other naturally occurring nutrients come with the sugar? Or as leading Australian Nutritionist Rosemary Stanton says “Is the food lollipops or lentils, Fantales or fruit, marshmallows or milk?”

How do I know how much sugar is in my food?

The best way to find out how much sugar is in your food, and to make better choices, is to use the nutrition labels. A tip to keep in mind is that the higher sugar is on the ingredient list, the more that food contains.

See the example below to know what to look for when reading labels.

Sugar can go by many different names in products, including:

• Brown sugar
• Corn syrup
• Dextrose
• Disaccharides
• Fructose
• Glucose
• Golden syrup
• Honey
• Lactose
• Malt
• Maltose
• Mannitol
• Maple syrup
• Molasses
• Monosaccharides
• Raw sugar
• Sorbitol
• Sucrose
• Xylitol

How can I reduce my sugar intake?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that sugars make up less than 10 per cent of our total energy intake each day. For most adults, this is equivalent to less than 10-12 teaspoons of sugar each day.

A 600ml bottle of soft drink contains 16 teaspoons of sugar, so simply drinking one bottle of soft drink per day puts you over the recommended daily sugar intake without having a single bite to eat.

Reducing your sugar intake can be easy with a few small changes.

• Choose to eat mainly minimally processed foods, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
• Swap sugar sweetened beverages, like soft drink or cordial, to water or milk
• Choose no added sugar alternatives for foods like yoghurt and sauces
• Try to choose whole fruit or canned fruit in juice instead of dried fruit or fruit juices
• Check labels to compare the amount of sugar between brands and check the ingredients list for added sugars (such as white, raw or brown sugar, glucose, molasses, corn syrup or maltose)

Want to know more?

Accredited Practising Dietitians are nutrition experts. They can help you find ways to decrease your sugar intake and improve the quality of your diet, so that it’s easier to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.


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