How much sugar is too much?
You have heard the message before; we eat too much sugar and should cut down for the benefit of our health but how much is too much and is any of it good? According to the Australian Health Survey 2011-2012 (1) Australians eat around 60 grams or 14 teaspoons of free sugars per day. Ideally for the biggest health benefit the World Health Organisation, (2) for the average adult is recommending we aim for an intake 25grams or 6-7 teaspoons of ‘free sugars’ per day. ‘Free sugars’ refers to sugar added to foods plus the sugars that are naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices. Sugar tastes so good though, it can’t all be bad surely? Let’s take a look at the common questions, are all sugars the same, how much is too much and is some good for us?
Are all sugars the same?
Sugars are carbohydrates and come in various forms, some of the more common sugars are;
- sucrose, which is the common table sugar you put in your cup of tea is made up of one glucose and one fructose molecule joined together
- glucose is the simplest form of sugar that your body absorbs into the blood stream. It is found naturally in fruit, some vegetables and when many glucose molecules are joined they form starch as you would eat in foods such as flour, bread, rice and potatoes
- fructose is one of the sugars found in fruit and vegetables
- lactose is a sugar made up of one galactose and one glucose molecules joined. It is found in dairy foods.
- Sugars added to processed foods e.g. corn syrup, dextrose and even coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup they are all sugar
Highly processed foods such as cakes, lollies, soft drinks, energy drinks and biscuits also contain sugar, generally sucrose, the issue here is that these foods don’t contain other valuable nutrients and often have a large amount of sugar which is not ideal. For example, a can of soft drink (375ml,) contains 10% sugar = 37.5grams = around 8 teaspoons of sugar. That is more than the recommended daily amount without any vitamins, minerals or other nutritional value.
The same amount of plain 2% fat milk has nearly half the sugar of soft drink, (20grams of lactose,) with the added benefit of protein, calcium, phosphorus and other vitamins and minerals for your body. Milk is an example of a whole food that has naturally occurring sugar that we don’t need to worry about and doesn’t count as ‘free sugar’. The Rokeby Farms no added sugar breakfast smoothies contain sugar only naturally found in milk and a little from fruit such as the banana with all the goodness of fresh milk.
Lactose in milk
For those people who have trouble digesting the lactose found in milk you don’t need to worry, with Rokeby Farms Protein Smoothies, they contain lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose, so the work is already done.
Is sugar good for us?
I want to be clear- there is no need to become hung up or feel guilty for eating foods that are high in sugar. We can enjoy some of any food and still be healthy. It is about your overall dietary habits and which foods you have most of. With a little knowledge about which foods and drinks are high in sugar and low in nutritional value you can then surround yourself with other, whole foods rich in nutrients instead. This makes it is easy to have your diet full of nourishing foods for your body and wont leave be much room left for others. You can then enjoy some sugar, without guilt, as who doesn’t enjoy their favourite ice-cream!
Sugar as energy
Sugar provides us with energy, that is a good thing. Our brain runs on glucose and our muscles store glucose as glycogen, break it down into energy and use it for muscle contraction. Too much sugar (3) however can be stored as excess body fat, including around our vital organs, such as our heart and liver, not so good for our health. It is about finding the balance that suits your individual energy needs. A marathon runner or tennis player heading into the 3rd set on a hot day may well and truly need some sports drink or sugar hit but for most of us that isn’t the case. Choosing wholefoods with minimal processing most of the time and enjoying the highly processed sugar laden foods in small amounts is generally the way to go.
Carbohydrate containing foods such as bread, pasta, corn, potatoes, barley and legumes have the carbohydrate digested into simple sugars such as glucose and fructose that are absorbed into the blood stream and are stored in out body to be used as energy. They also provide dietary fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals and plenty of phytonutrients beneficial to health. Choosing wholegrain varieties which release the digested carbohydrate more slowly is recommended. These are nourishing foods and should be included in your diet in amounts suitable to you.
Sugar also makes many nutritious foods taste delicious such as fruit, milk and even vegetables which encourages us to eat them. Vegetables would be very bitter without their small amounts of sugar hey contain. Think about when you eat roast vegetables and even fry onions, the very small amounts of sugar caramelise and make them taste delicious. People are often concerned about the sugar in fruit. If you are eating it whole there is nothing to worry about, enjoy it. It is when you juice fruit and concentrating the sugar and removing most of the fibre that you want to keep the quantities small. Half a glass or 125ml is a suggested serve (4).
If you like having bright and shiny pearly white teeth, cutting back on sugar is an excellent idea. Bacteria in your mouth thrive on sugar. When sugar from food and drink ends up on the surface of your tooth, the bacteria uses the sugar as energy to grow. Over time plaque can build, which eats away at the tooth enamel, encouraging cavities and gum disease. If you would like to read more about dental health check out the Australian Dental Association website. (5)
How to cut down on sugar?
If you are looking for some tips to cut down on sugar try these:
- Swap softdrink and fruit juice for water
- Choose no added sugar drinks such as the Rokeby Farms Protein Smoothies
- Read labels for other ingredients that are still sugar e.g. raw sugar, dextrose, syrups, fruit juice concentrate etc
- Grab a handful of nuts or seeds over lollies
- Cut smaller servings of cake with less icing
- Try tea and coffee with less or no sugar
- Check sugar levels in sauces, marinades, pre packaged foods.
- For more tips you could read this handout for Government of South Australia (6)
- Talk about sweeteners