Part 7: Sugar and You
By now we are all aware of the potential for excess dietary sugar to increase our risk of some diseases. In 2015 the World Health Organisation (WHO) released its recommendation for limiting ADDED/FREE sugar in our diets to less than 10% of our recommended daily energy intake, measured in calories or kilojoules. This recommendation was made after lengthy examination of the research around eating and disease risk. The evidence for this 10% restriction is strong. WHO also suggest that a further benefit exists for reduction to 5% of our energy intake however the disease risk evidence is not as strong.
Added sugar, or free sugar
Refers to any source of sugar used to sweeten foods in the dry or liquid form. 10% of daily energy limit doesn’t include sugars naturally occurring in whole fruits, vegetables and in unsweetened dairy food. These foods naturally contain the sugars glucose, fructose and lactose, among others. This means you do not need to count sugar related to fruits, vegetables or unsweetened dairy eaten in their plain/whole food form when included in a product. You do however need to count sugars concentrated from these and used as a food sweetener eg. fruit concentrate.
Added/free sugar will be evident on the label of foods and may have many names including:
- Sugar (any colour), anything ending in ‘ose’ eg.sucrose, fructose, dextrose, glucose, maltose, raffinose, xylose
- Syrups/liquids such as rice malt syrup, maple syrup, glucose syrup, high fructose corn syrup, golden syrup, molasses, agave and date syrup
- Honey and nectars such as agave syrup and rose hip syrup
- Fruit juice concentrate, coconut sugar, palm sugar, invert sugar
- Sugar alcohols – sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, erythritol in ‘sugar-free’ or ‘calorie reduced’ products
- It also includes sugar found in processed, fibre-removed, fruit such as fruit juice (even 100%)
A person’s energy needs will depend on age, gender, height and activity level. So energy needs, and therefore the ‘less than 10% of daily energy’ figure will differ. A rough guide is shown below:
- For large and active adults – up to a maximum of 12 teaspoons added/free sugar per day eg. 1 sports drink (9 teaspoons) and one fruit yoghurt (3-5 teaspoons per small tub, depending on brand).
- For smaller and less active adults – up to a maximum of 6 teaspoons added/free sugar per day, for example one fruit yoghurt (3-5 teaspoons per small tub) and 1 teaspoon honey on porridge.
If you are aiming at 5% of daily energy from added/free sugar it will be half these amounts.
Which foods are big, small and tiny contributors?
No surprises here, the sweet processed foods provide 3-10 teaspoons per serve as you would expect from the sweet taste. Be aware of the added/free sugar content in the serve size you eat and how it will contribute to your daily target and reduce intake accordingly of:
- All sweet drinks including soft drinks, cordials, sports drinks and fruit juice no matter what they are made of or how they are sweetened eg. sugar, fruit juice concentrate.
- Sweetened breakfast cereals
- Sweetened/flavoured milk and yoghurt
- Ice cream and ice cream syrups, sundaes, icy poles etc
- Fruit canned in syrup (the syrup not the fruit)
- Lollies and confectionary, non-dark chocolate, chewing gums
- Biscuits, cakes, sweet pastries, buns and many snack or muesli bars
- Very sweet simmer sauces where you end up eating a large serve of the sauce, eg. commercial sweet and sour simmer sauces
Although high in added/free sugar the following foods are typically used in smaller amounts when adding them to our meals:
- Chocolate spread and jams, honey and maple syrup on toast, pancakes, porridge etc
- Sugars added to food of any type
Foods that contain small amounts of added/free sugar per serve include many of the condiments used for flavouring food and added sugar in bread to feed the yeast. Added/free sugar is present in some concentrated pastes and sauces AND the amount you eat will be very small because the product makes many, many serves. This ‘tiny contributor’ category is where most of Latasha’s Kitchen products fit in. Checkout my blog Part 8: Latasha’s Kitchen Products and Added/Free Sugar.
Does the the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) help me discover added/free sugar?
The NIP shows a measurement of total carbohydrate including starch and sugars in the product. Sugars are also listed separately as part of the carbohydrate total.
But ‘sugars’ in any product could come from two sources:
- Added/free sugars (crystalline sugars, fruit concentrates as well as syrups and liquids eg. maple syrup/honey).
- Sugars contributed by whole vegetables, whole fruit and milk or yoghurt ingredients.
The label does not indicate how much of each are present and it is this crucial piece of information that limits usefulness of the ‘sugars’ figure on the label.
In a nutshell – It is rarely possible to work out how much added/free sugars you are eating in a processed food or drink just by reading the back of a pack!!! This only works if the ingredients contributing sugars are added/free sugar ingredients OR if you identify all sugar-contributing ingredients and ‘guestimate’ their contribution to the figure.
Estimating free/added sugar in a product
Try this method for estimating free/added sugar in a product and contribution to your 10% daily energy target.
- Read the ingredient list on the product. Are there are any ingredients that are just added/free sugar? Go to 2) NO or 3) YES
- NO – the product has no added/free sugar in it, so will not contribute to your daily added sugar intake.
- YES – determine how much added/free sugar is in the product by looking at what position it is on the ingredient list.
- Ingredients are listed by weight, from most to least present. If the added/free sugar ingredient is near the top of the list then it is present in a larger amount and if it is further down the list it is present in a smaller amount.
- Consider the serve size you eat or use to make a dish. What is the serve size one person will actually consume, eg. 2 heaped tablespoons used in a dish for four, means one person eats half a tablespoon.
- If sugar is one of the first ingredients on the list only use a small serve per person.
- If you want more detail, you can calculate from the serve size you eat, the grams of sugar (1 teaspoon sugar = 5 g) and from there the calorie/kilojoule content.
From reading my other nutrition blogs, you will be aware that to eat well it is recommended changing from consuming processed foods in significant amounts towards a diet based on minimally processed foods. These include:
- Wholegrains (brown rice/barley/cracked wheat/quinoa/buckwheat etc), vegetables (including legumes)
- Fresh fruit
- Lean meats (red and white)
- Unsweetened dairy products and tofu
- Nuts and seeds
Making this change alone will significantly reduce the added/free sugar content of your daily diet. Adding small amounts of products with carefully chosen ingredients and some added/free sugar will not cause you to exceed your daily added/free sugar recommendation and will make regular preparation of tasty meals and snacks achievable. Consuming home made food, where you can control the ingredients, will keep your health goals right on track. Enjoy!
Learn about the added/free sugar in all Latasha’s products by reading my blog Part 8: Latasha’s Kitchen Products and Added/Free Sugar.