What is sugar?

Sugar is a natural ingredient that has been a part of our diet for thousands of years. Sugars are carbohydrates that provide energy for our body. Some sugars are found in fruit, vegetables and milk, while others are added in cooking. Our bodies do not distinguish between the different types of sugar and we break them down the same way.

It’s the white stuff,  the brown stuff, its healthy honey, agave and maple syrup and corn syrup…chemically it’s all the same. It is what sweetens our food. It is used in processed foods to make it taste appealing.

The most common kinds of sugars
  • Sucrose – made up from glucose and fructose, it is extracted from sugar cane and is also naturally present in most fruits and vegetables.
  • Glucose and Fructose – found in fruits, vegetables and honey.
  • Maltose
  • Lactose

Sugar is made up from glucose and fructose. Glucose gives us energy and feeds our brain, fructose goes to our liver and causes problems. When your liver metabolises fructose it has no choice but to turn it into liver fat. Liver fat causes disease. Too much fructose shuts down the part of your brain that tells you are full. Fructose cannot be used by the body and goes straight to the liver.

We know that in one can of Coca Cola there is 39g of sugar. 1tsp = 4g which means that there are 10 teaspoons in one can of fizzy juice! We can make a decision to drink it or avoid it because it is obviously a high sugar product. However sugar is hidden in food that you wouldn’t expect to find it. Almost all processed food contains sugar. Bread, pasta sauce, dressings, marinades and all your favourite shop bought ready meals. The only way you can reduce your sugar intake is to limit your use of processed foods.

How much sugar should we have per day?
  • 25g sugar a day = 6 teaspoons a day. This means one can of coke is already putting you in surplus.
  • Added sugars shouldn’t make up more than 5% of the energy or calorie intake each day.
  • Fruit juice and honey count as added sugars, as they’re sometimes added to foods to make them sweeter.
  • You shouldn’t cut down on fruit as it’s an important part of a healthy balanced diet.
How can you tell if a product is low or high in sugar?
  • It’s the sugar ‘per 100g’ that determines if its a high or low sugar product. So first look for the “Carbohydrates (of which sugars)” figure in the nutrition label to see how much sugar the product contains for every 100g.
    LOW SUGAR = 5g or less per 100g
    HIGH SUGAR = 22.5g or more per 100g
    From there you can work out what you think is an acceptable amount for you and your family to be eating.
  • We don’t always eat 100g, so next look at your serving size.
    For example, Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce has 42g per 100g, so that’s super high! You might eat a 20g serving which is 8g (2 teaspoons)
    This is really important on things like cereals which are really high in sugar. It may state that there are 8g per 30g serving. However you eat 60g which is 16g (4 teaspoons).
Be aware of labels claiming to be healthy!

How many times have you bought something because of the wording on the packaging?

  • ‘All Natural’
  • ‘helps maintain a healthy heart’
  • ‘Healthy Grains’
  • ‘Good for You!’

The only way you can know if it actually is healthy is to

  1. Read the ingredients list. Manufacturers use other words to trick us to believing the product is sugar free, which it is not! For example, these are all sugar – malt syrup, dextrose, cane crystals, corn sweetener, corn syrup, fructose sweetener, corn syrup, hydrolysed starch, invert sugar, molasses
  2. Look at the nutritional breakdown. The traffic light system allows us to compare similar products and enables us to see if it is green – low or red – high in a particular nutrient.
What do the claims mean?
  • No added sugar = this doesn’t mean low sugar. It may contain ingredients like fruit which are very high in sugar. This just means that food has not had sugar added to it.
  • Unsweetened = usually means that no sugar or sweeter has been added to make it taste sweet. It doesn’t mean low in sugar.
  • Reduced sugar = this doesn’t mean less calories. The sugar that has been removed has been replaced with other nutrients which contain as much and sometimes more energy as sugar. You could be eating something which has more calories than it’s more sugary sister.
    Kellogg Frosties per 100g contains 375 kcals and 37g sugar.
    Keloggs Frosties (reduced sugar) per 100g conatins 379 kcals and 22g sugar.
  • Lite or Light = the product must have 30% less sugar or fat than the standard product of the same manufacturer. However, check across other brands, you may find lower sugar in other brands not claiming to ‘light’
  • Fresh, pure or natural = these terms are not outlined by law, but by looking at the ingredients and nutritional breakdown you can determine if it is any of these things.

The trouble with the healthy claims on packaging is it lures us into thinking that we can eat lots of said product. There may be more calories on these ‘healthy biscuits’ than you think.

Granola that you buy from the supermarket can contain as much as 27g per 100g which puts it well above ‘high sugar’ status.

My Pink Lady & Almond Granola contains 4.8g per 100g.
My Cacao & Walnut Granola contains 7.4g per 100g.

Why do manufacturers use sugar in savoury food?

It makes food taste appealing. We become hooked on processed foods and go back for more. The food industry goes to great length to figure out what it is that makes us go back fro more. This is called the bliss point.

The bliss point is the perfect balance of sugar, fat and saltiness that you like the most. Too little you have not reached the bliss point too much you are past it. It is what makes us crave certain foods. To boost sales, they add sugar.

is it ok to eat products derived from fruit?

The trouble with products derived from fruit, is that the nutritional composition changes so much during processing  there are no nutrients left. The vitamins, minerals and fibre are gone and all your are left with is sugar.

My biggest issue is with yogurts, cereals and fruit bars marketed to parents or young children. Food claiming to be one of your five a day,or healthy bone builders   Fruit Winders and Fruit Loops start their journey as fruit, They maybut as the bar is bad product is processed, the nutrition changes.

The sugars found in fruit juice can damage your teeth. It’s best to drink fruit juice with a meal and no more than one 150ml serving per day.

This is because sugars are released during the juicing process. Sugars in whole pieces of fruit are less likely to cause tooth decay because they are contained within the food.

Tips to cut down sugar

Check food labels and be aware of marketing tricks
Read the nutritional information on food labels to see how much sugar the food contains. Remember that sugar has many different names. The nearer the beginning of the ingredient list the sugar is, the more sugar the product contains. The amount per 100g will indicate if it is high or low, then look at sugar in your serving size. Don’t fall for healthy wording on the front. Become familiar with sugar jargon and don’t believe the hype.

Don’t drink your sugar
Instead of sugary, fizzy drinks and juice drinks, go for water. If you take sugar in hot drinks, gradually reduce the amount until you can cut it out altogether.

Get creative with fruit 
Make bars and sweet treats with fruit, to cut down on added sugar. I have spent years perfecting my Banana & Peanut Butter Bar and Cacao and Banana Peanut Butter Bars. They only contain the sugar from the fruit. You can buy them from me or make them yourself!

Set small goals
If you are someone who eats a lot of cakes, chocolate or biscuits, cut down slowly. Allow yourself less each week and it will become our new habit.

I coach my clients through a Personal Nutrition Advice Programme.  Please get in touch if you are interested.

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