We understand that enjoying treats like a Paddlepop ice cream, cinnamon scroll, or a slice of Aunty Val’s pav don’t come under the guise of being ‘no sugar’ foods – they are going to serve us up some added sugar. A completely sugar free diet or a no sugar no carb diet isn’t necessary (or sustainable) for most people, a little in the diet is fine. However, the sweet stuff can creep into our everyday foods without us even realising. As a result, the average Australian is over-consuming it, and this is having serious health consequences.
As seen in the That Sugar Film, added sugar can be 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 foods are also marketed to be ‘healthy’. It can make reducing sugar intake challenging – if you are going to eat added sugar, you want to know you are eating added sugar, not have it hidden away beneath a veil of ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ claims!
But we are here to help you out!
We aren’t going to tell you how to stop eating sugar or how to cut out sugar completely; instead, we will share with you our top tips to help you identify where the added sugar lies, and ways to limit too much of it sneaking into your every day:
- Understand added vs natural sugar Added sugars are ingredients added to a food or drink. Natural sugars, like those in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and dairy, occur naturally as part of a whole food, and are a normal part of the diet.
- Reading the label Remember, 4.2 grams of sugar is 1 teaspoon, and we aim to limit added sugar intake to 6 teaspoons (25g) per day. And low sugar foods 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 most of your daily whole food needs – including fresh vegetables, fruit and other produce like dairy and meat. Staple yummies like nuts, seeds, beans and good fat olive and coconut oils may require an occasional middle aisle adventure!
- Mostly eat real 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. But if you have something junky, enjoy it, do not be hard on yourself, and eat something better for you 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 food is okay Our bodies are amazingly 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!
- Limit 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.
- Unwind 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.
- And finally, 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 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.
This is not about cutting out sugar altogether or a no sugar diet (unless you have a medical reason to do so). Remember, sugars occur naturally in many real, whole foods, and these foods can offer a myriad of nutrients with health benefits! What we want to aim for is reducing added sugar intake, as it is excess consumption of added and free sugars, along with the processed and packaged foods it often comes in, that can contribute to ill health.
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)