There are only 8 days left of Sugar Free February, I’m not going to lie, it’s been tough! It got me thinking – should we all be cutting out added sugar?
What is added sugar?
There are different sources of sugar in your diet. Sugar can either be intrinsic (ie within a food or drink) or extrinsic ie added to food or drink.
This infographic from The Rooted Project (original source) nicely summarises what is meant by added, free or extrinsic sugars.
How much sugar are we advised to eat per day?
The advice from the Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) is to have no more than 5% of daily energy intake in free sugars per day. This equals:
- 19g or 5 sugar cubes for children aged 4 to 6.
- 24g or 6 sugar cubes for children aged 7 to 10.
- 30g or 7 sugar cubes for 11 years and over, based on average population diets.
This seems like quite a lot until you start looking at labels and realise how much is added to savoury food as well as sweet.
Some people try to avoid it all together and the media now use terms such as addictive and describe sugar as the root of all our problems. But lets look at the whole picture.
How does added sugar effect the body?
When we consume free sugar it is broken down in the small intestine into glucose, fructose and galactose and is absorbed into the blood. This causes a rise in blood glucose which stimulates the production of insulin.
Why is this a problem?
Sugar is an excellent source of calories, there are 4 kcals in 1 g and although there are more in fat, sugar is much easier and quicker to absorb. It is pure energy and has no other nutritional value i.e. no vitamins or minerals. This can be described as “empty calories”
Having large amounts of sugar, especially fructose can lead to insulin resistance (source). But don’t worry, eating fructose in fruit is much less of a problem.
Eating too much sugar can be linked to cancer which is thought to be due to the constant need for the body to produce insulin (source).
Basically eating too much sugar causes people to gain weight.
However – you don’t often eat sugar on it’s own. Usually it is combined with other ingredients which reduces the speed that it is absorbed into the blood.
It depends on what you eat as to the speed that glucose is absorbed into your blood. Free sugars on their own are high glycaemic index (GI). That is, if you consumed a sugary drink or a boiled sweet the sugar does not need to be broken down very much and can be absorbed really fast. However, if you add fat, protein or fibre it slows down the absorption rate. The slower it is absorbed, the lower GI it is. This graph shows how fast different carbohydrates are absorbed (source).
Following a low GI diet can make you feel fuller for longer due to no sugar spikes and subsequent dips and often have the beneficial effects of other nutrients such as fibre.
What about fat?
As people have reduced their fat intake over the past 40-50 years the intake of sugar has increased. The food industry has had to increase sugar to improve the flavour. Unfortunately the original evidence that encouraged people to reduce fat in their diets was flawed. It is becoming more apparent from recent research that increasing fats, even saturated fat does not have an adverse affect (source). Increasing certain dairy products can even be beneficial (source).
Sugar is added to food to improve it’s flavour but it can lead to weight gain if consumed in large amounts.
Here’s my practical advice:
- try to have sugar-free, low GI breakfast as it makes a huge difference with feeling hungry mid-morning and sets you up as you mean to go on.
- eat low GI meals and snacks for the rest of the day
- try to stick to the SACN guidelines above
- occasional treats are fine but if you want to keep your blood glucose stable eat sweeter things after a meal
Personally, the major benefit I have found so far from removing added sugar from my diet is less hunger between meals. However, I will not continue completely in March, life is fairly drab without it, it’s quite inconvenient and I really like chocolate!
If you don’t know where to begin, I have a 7 day plan designed to get you going with stabilising your blood glucose, this features daily e-mails from me, a meal plan, recipes and a shopping list, you can find more information here.