There’s no way to sugarcoat the truth – Australians are eating more than enough sugar with the average Australian consuming 60 grams – or 14 teaspoons – of added sugar per day. That’s more than double the upper recommended amount of just 25-30 grams of added sugars per day. On top of this, we’ve been told it’s toxic, a sweet poison, fattening, addictive and rots your teeth. But is sugar really the number one enemy to our health woes? We round up the truth behind some of the most common misconceptions about the sweet stuff.
Myth: There are healthier types of sugar
Fact: For most people, one type of sugar isn’t better than another.
Whether it’s white, brown, honey, maple, agave, coconut sugar, our body breaks down all types of sugar equally into glucose - the body's main source of energy. However, there are subtle differences in the way each are digested and absorbed. Still, it’s best to limit all sources of added sugar as it has limited nutritional value
Myth: Fruit (except for berries) is full of sugar.
Fact: All fruit contains sugar (in the form of fructose) – some fruit more than others.
For most people, the benefits of eating fruit outweigh any disadvantages posed by its sugar content — hence why cutting fruit is not necessary for those wanting to cut down on sugar. Fresh fruit is packaged up with fibre, which slows the digestion and the release of the sugars into the bloodstream, and also contains plenty of healthy nutrients and antioxidants. The danger is when fruit juices are chosen over whole fruits, because juicing can remove some of the beneficial nutrients and also cause over-consumption of fruit.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend adults consume around two serves of fruit per day, and we know that just over half (51.3%) of Australians adults met the guidelines, so most people are not eating too much fruit.
Myth: You can wipe out all sugar from your diet
Fact: While it may be fashionable to “quit” sugar, it’s not only extreme and impossible, it's also unnecessary.
Typical sugar-free diets encourage people to avoid table sugar (sucrose), honey, maple syrup, refined starches (e.g. white flour, white pasta), condiments, soft drinks, confectionary and some fruits (e.g. bananas, raisins). Some diets also recommend eliminating or restricting dairy products, such as flavoured yoghurts. However, these anti-sugar diets generally recommend replacing the sweet stuff with other added refined sugars like glucose or rice malt syrup. In fact, these alternatives provide slightly more kilojoules, have a much higher glycemic index (GI), and can still cause tooth decay – so technically means that you’re not actually “quitting sugar”.
Your best bet is replacing processed snacks with a piece of fruit or natural yoghurt which contain important sources of fibre, vitamins and minerals. In short, there’s no need to quit sugar entirely to improve your health or weight. The key is eating less processed foods with added or hidden sugars.
Myth: You can get diabetes from eating too much sugar.
Fact. Sugar does not directly cause the condition – eating too many kilojoules can make you overweight, increasing your risk.
I can understand why this myth is long-standing. After all, type 2 diabetes (the most common form of diabetes) is characterised by high levels of sugar in the blood. The fact is, there is nothing special about sugar, compared to fat or protein. Generally, people eating lots of added sugar are eating lots of processed foods and/or sugar-sweetened beverages, therefore tend to have poorer diets. This along with a lack of physical activity may contribute to the rise in one of the fastest growing chronic disease in Australia than pointing the finger at dietary sugar alone.