Why is it bad to have too much sugar in our diets?
- Eating too many carbohydrates, particularly simple or refined sugars, can be harmful to blood glucose control, especially if you are insulin resistant, experience hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) or have diabetes. Additional health concerns associated with excess sugar intake include an increased risk of obesity, heart disease and some forms of cancer.
- Added sugar contains large amounts of fructose in which only the liver can metabolise. When too much fructose enters the liver and it is already full of glycogen (stored sugar for fuel), most of the fructose gets turned into fat. High sugar loading in the liver can elevate your cholesterol and triglycerides and increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
- High sugar intake can cause tooth decay by increasing dental plaque, which breaks down the enamel.
- High sugar can lead to nutrient deficiencies because it can leach out vitamins and minerals from the body reducing their absorption.
- Sugar is addictive due to the release of the hormone dopamine after consumption. In certain individuals with a predisposition to addiction, this causes reward-seeking behaviour similar to that of drug use.
How much sugar should we have?
The recommendations surrounding sugar intake will vary from individual to individual, depending on stage of life, whether or not you have a chronic disease, body composition, activity levels. However, new recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) are that only 5% of your daily calorie intake should consist of added, or ‘free’ sugars. This equates to approximately five-six teaspoons (25g) for women and seven-eight teaspoons (35g) for men. To put this into perspective, one can of soft drink contains around 9 teaspoons – so it is easy to reach the recommended daily amount.
What are the ‘bad’ sugars?
When any type of sugar is added to foods during processing, manufacturing, cooking or at the table, you consume calories without any nutrients or fibre. This type of sugar is called “added sugar” and is considered to be ‘bad’ sugar.These “added sugars”, include sucrose (table sugar) or high fructose corn syrup.
Sucrose, commonly known as cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are highly processed, refined super sweet sugars are added to many commercial foods to enhance their flavour. Foods which contain sucrose include jams, cereals, baked goods, confectionery, soft drinks, ice cream and flavoured yogurt.
HFCS is rarely used in Australia, compared to cane sugar since cane sugar is cheaper and more readily available.
Are there any ‘good’ sugars?
Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains contain simple sugars. When simple sugars are naturally found in whole food, they contain vitamins, minerals, protein, phytochemicals, antioxidants and fibre. The presence of fibre makes a significant difference because it slows down the absorption of sugar, which moderates its impact on blood sugar. Therefore, the natural sugar in whole food such as lactose (found in dairy), glucose is considered ‘good’ sugar.
Healthier ways of getting a sugar fix
- Use stevia instead – Stevia is a natural sweetener and sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana. Stevia has no calories and is 200 times sweeter than sugar.
- Bake with overripe bananas (mashed) or unsweetened apple sauce.
- Snack on some Medjool dates – avoid the lollies and chocolate and snack on Medjool dates, which are not only naturally sweet but also contain fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
- Infuse a water jug or water bottle with cut up pieces of sweet fruit. Sipping on this throughout the day will curb the cravings.
Tips for swapping sugar for healthier alternatives
- Swap white bread, rice and pasta for wholegrain versions like oats, multigrain and wholemeal breads, brown rice and pasta.
- Swap soft drinks and fruit juice for water or herbal teas
- Swap ice cream with natural frozen yoghurt (frozen fruit of your choice + Natural or Greek yoghurt)
- Swap a fruit muffin with a whole piece of fruit
- Swap biscuits and cookies for oatcakes.
- Swap milk chocolate with dark chocolate