There is natural sugar, then there is added sugar.
Natural sugar is found in foods like fruits, vegetables and dairy and, as its name suggests, it is natural. Added sugar is found mostly in processed foods like cereals, desserts, yoghurts and energy, fruit and soft drinks. It is sugar in various forms added during the manufacture of these foods, either to give them colour, to preserve them or add texture, making them more appetising. Sugar is not necessarily bad; in fact, our bodies need this simple carbohydrate for energy. So, what is the problem, you may ask?
The problem is we are never aware of the added sugar in food – or worse, the amount that is added. In most daily portions of processed foods, we consume the equivalent of three day’s recommended sugar (or “energy” as it is labelled on food packaging) in one meal or serving. That is just plain bad, especially if it is done unknowingly. It’s bad because it can lead to illness that catches us unaware, and it’s all because of the sugar that is snuck into our foods.
Our hearts, cells and waistlines don’t like sugar that much, and an overload can result in lifestyle diseases like diabetes; vital organs like the liver can suffer and, in some cases, certain cancers result.
“Some evidence suggests there’s a relationship between added sugars and obesity, diabetes and heart disease, but this relationship isn’t entirely clear”. Mayo Clinic
The sweet truth is that added sugars have little or no nutritional value and simply add extra calories to our diet. Sadly, it is also not easy to identify added sugar or the amount of it in foods since the nutritional facts labels give a total of natural and added sugars in grams. Sugar is also labelled using various names, depending on how it’s made. The closest we can come to identifying it in our foods at supermarkets is looking for ingredients with names ending with “ose”, like fructose, lactose, glucose, maltose and dextrose. Also, if sugar is listed among the few top ingredients in the nutritional facts label it is a red flag. Ingredients are listed in a descending order based on their weight.
There are ways one can try to cut back, however. Try these substitutes below:
- Plain Greek yoghurt instead of flavoured yoghurt. Add some fruit for taste and extra fibre.
- Replace store-bought salad dressing with plant-based oil and vinegar.
- Eat fruit for dessert instead of sweets, baked goods and chocolate.
- Try plain tomatoes or salsa to avoid tomato sauce.
- Make your own muesli and ditch the boxed cereal.
- Go for freshly squeezed fruit juices instead of canned or boxed “fruit juice”.
- Drink plain sparkling water to replace fizzy drinks or energy drinks.
- Experiment with fruit and vegetables as snacks. Try kale chips, fresh coconut or fruit and veggie drinks.
The truth is that all sugars are equal. The popular belief that brown sugar, honey or sweeteners are better than white sugar is not true. And totally cutting out sugar may not be sustainable in the long term. As long as we are aware of the amounts we consume, whether natural or added, we are able to make adjustments where needed. All in moderation.
Tell us how you control your sugar intake and what substitutes you use.
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