How Much Sugar Are You Really Eating?

Wednesday, February 12, 2020, in Nutrition, Advice by

While there’s no doubt Australians are consuming too much sugar, the abundance of information has unsurprisingly created some confusion (not to mention hysteria) about the sweet stuff.

SUGAR 101

Total sugars refers to those sugars which are naturally occurring as well as those added for flavour, sweetness and texture.

Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods such as fruit, starchy vegetables and dairy products.

Added sugars comes in various forms including the more natural versions honey and maple syrup, as well as the more refined and processed table sugar, corn syrup and rice malt syrup.

If we look at the recent ABS study, it showed that 1 in 2 Australians are exceeding the recommended intake of total sugars, however the majority of sugars are coming from the “added” sugars found in processed foods and drinks. Think fruit juice, soft drinks, confectionary, cakes, muffins, as well as natural sources like honey. This equates to an average of 60 grams of added sugars per day (equivalent to 15 teaspoons of white sugar).

The World Health Organisation recommends our sugar consumption should only make up five per cent of our total daily calorie intake. This means roughly 25g or six teaspoons per day. But the bigger problem is, many of these processed foods that contain added sugars also contain a combination of saturated fat and refined starches – a combination that can also raise your risk of chronic disease.

SHOULD YOU “QUIT SUGAR?”

The truth is – no. It’s almost impossible to completely quit sugar, well at least the naturally occurring stuff. Doing so would mean cutting out whole food groups (fruit, starchy vegetables and dairy products) and the nutrients they provide.

There are however a few ways to minimise the intake of added sugar and excessive amounts of naturally occurring sugars:

  • Limit intake of “extra” foods including soft drinks, energy drinks and sports drinks, muffins, cakes, confectionary and ice creams

  • Limit intake of fruit juice which contains concentrated amounts of naturally occurring sugars and no fibre, leading to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. Choose whole pieces of fruit instead and opt for water when thirsty

  • Always read the ingredients and be aware of the many different names for sugar – dehydrated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, rice malt syrup, sucrose, invert sugar, maltodextrin just to name a few!

  • Try herbs and spices to enhance flavour where possible

Bottom line? Sugar alone isn’t to blame for our expanding waistlines. If you’re serious about cutting down on sugars, reduce your consumption of processed foods and foods where excessive amounts of sugars have been added.

Olivia is a Sydney-based Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) with extensive experience in food industry, product reformulation and recipe development.

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