Tucking into a tub of Häagen-Dazs, a packet of Skittles or a slice of Aunty Val’s pav, one is fully aware they are being served up some added sugar.
However, excess sweet stuff can creep into our seemingly healthy, everyday foods without us even realising!
As a result, the average Australian is over-consuming free and added sugars, and this can lead to serious health consequences.
As seen in the That Sugar Film, added sugar comes under the guise of many different names, and found in A LOT of our packaged food and drink. (At least 70% of the stuff found at your average supermarket.)
Many of these products are also marketed to be ‘healthy’ so it can make reducing intake of added sugar challenging. If you are going to eat added sugar, you want to know you are eating added sugar, not have it hidden away beneath the veil of ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ product claims.
But we are here to help you out!
Here we share with you tips to keep free and added sugar intake to a minimum, including how to identify where the added sugar lies and ways to limit too much of it sneaking into your every day.
Top tips for reducing intake of added and free sugars
- Understand added vs natural sugar
Make sure you know the difference between added sugars and those naturally occurring in whole foods. Added and free sugars are ingredients added to food or drink products by the manufacturer, cook or consumer. Free sugars also include juices (and concentrates), honey, and syrups. Intake of added and free sugars should be limited. Naturally occurring (a.k.a. intrinsic) sugars are found in whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy. They are bundled up with other nutrients such as water, fibre, vitamins, and minerals, which are beneficial to health and are a normal part of a healthy diet.
- Read the label
Read product labels, checking the ingredient list for any of the many names for added sugars, as well as Nutrition Information Panel for total sugar content. Remember, 4.2 grams of sugar is 1 teaspoon, and we aim to limit added sugar intake to 6 teaspoons (25g) per day. More broadly, foods considered ‘low sugar’ are those that contain 5 grams or less of total sugar per 100g.
- Shop from the supermarket perimeter
Focus your regular supermarket shop on these areas to supply the majority of your daily diet. This includes fresh vegetables, fruit, and other produce like dairy and meat. Pantry staples such as nuts, seeds, beans, tinned fish, and good quality olive and coconut oils may require an occasional middle aisle adventure!
- Eat mostly real, whole food
If a majority of the food you consume each day is real, whole food, you are already eating a low sugar diet as there is little room left for the heavily processed, sugar-laden junk. Have fun in the kitchen by playing with ways to make food flavourful sans the sweet stuff! But if you have something packaged, processed or loaded with sugar, enjoy it. Do not be hard on yourself, and eat something more nourishing for your next meal.
- Enjoy fibre, protein and healthy fats
To help curb cravings, at each meal get in some whole food sources of fibre, healthy fat, and/or protein, like avocado, almonds, and free-range eggs. It can leave you feeling fuller for longer and stabilise energy, lessening the likelihood of reaching for a quick sugary fix later on.
- Occasional processed and sugary food is okay
Our bodies are incredibly resilient, so when cutting back on the added sugars, you don’t need to be extreme. A little dessert when out with friends or some shortbread at the occasional workplace afternoon tea ain’t going to break the health bank!
- Avoid sugary drinks
The quickest and easiest way to cut down on added and free sugars is kicking the sugary drinks. Replace a bubbly soft drink with plain soda water infused with fresh citrus slices or berries and fresh herbs or spices like cinnamon and vanilla. And if you really want a juice, enjoy one that is freshly pressed and try watering it down.
Stress-eating is common, and often we reach for sugary foods for a mood boost. Undertake a stress-relieving activity that suits you, such as a guided meditation, deep breathing, a stroll, a yoga class, or having a cup of tea with a mate who makes you feel good.
- Keep hydrated
If our body isn’t adequately hydrated, we are more likely to feel hungry, foggy-headed, or low in energy. This increases the likelihood of eating more food or reaching for foods and drinks high in added sugars for a quick pick-me-up. Grab your (reusable) water bottle and enjoy some H2O!
- Be kind to yourself
If you do indulge a little more on the sweet stuff than you intended to, ditch the guilt (the stress around this can be just as damaging as the not-so-great food choice) and make the next food choice a better one!
Overall, we want to reacquaint ourselves with the subtle sweetness offered in whole foods, such as sweet potato, fruit, and spices like cinnamon and vanilla. But if you are going to use a sweetener, use sparingly and choose one that is minimally processed.
We aren’t here to tell you how to stop eating sugar or to cut out sugar completely. Unless not having free or added sugar at all works for you (or you are not consuming any for a medical reason), know that a little added sugar in the diet is fine.
The aim is to increase awareness of where added sugar lies, and reduce intake overall, as it is excess consumption of added and free sugars, along with the processed and packaged foods it often comes in, which can contribute to poor health.
So, keep an eye out for added and free sugars, limit intake to 6 teaspoons (25g) per day, and above all, be kind to yourself!
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)