Tucking into a tub of Häagen-Dazs, a packet of Skittles, or a slice of Aunty Val’s pavlova, without question you are eating added sugar.
However, excessive amounts of the sweet stuff can creep into everyday foods without us realising, even in products that appear ‘healthy’.
Many of these products are also marketed as ‘healthy’. This makes reducing intake of added sugar more 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!
To learn how to keep free and added sugar intake to a minimum, we are here to help you out.
Check out below our tips for reducing intake of the sweet stuff.
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 the many names for added sugars, as well as the 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 (25 grams) per day. More broadly, foods considered ‘low sugar’ are those that contain 5 grams or less of total sugar per 100 grams.
- Shop from the supermarket perimeter
Whole foods found in the supermarket perimeter should supply the majority of your daily diet. This includes fresh produce, such as vegetables, fruit, seafood, eggs, dairy, and meat. Supplement with whole food pantry staples such as nuts, seeds, beans, tinned fish, and good quality olive oil. By doing this, you’ll limit or even avoid ultra-processed foods, added sugars, and other products and ingredients devoid of beneficial nutrients.
- 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 stuff. 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. Such foods will 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. Remember this when you find yourself having some added sugar. While some feel better off not having any at all, for most, a little ain’t going to break the health bank! Listen to your body and find your balance. If you feel like dessert when out with friends or some shortbread at the occasional workplace afternoon tea, enjoy the moment for what it is. More important is keeping added sugar from creeping into your diet insidiously each day.
- 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 with fresh herbs or spices such as basil or cinnamon. And if you really want a juice, enjoy one that is freshly pressed and watered 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 the 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 have a little more of the sweet stuff than intended, 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 (though that is okay if having no free or added sugar works for you or eating a diet free of added sugars is prescribed for a medical reason). For most, know that a little is fine.
The aim is to increase awareness of where added sugar hides, 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, that contributes to poor health.
For your health, 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.)