Say the word ‘sugar’ and most people think of the white granular stuff many of us have in a sugar bowl at home. But what is sugar exactly?
When we talk about reducing sugar in our diets, many of us think of table sugar, but this is just one form of sugar that we get in our diet. Sugars are basically Carbohydrates, and this exists naturally, in different forms in all kinds of food.
Granulated sugar that you may put in your tea or sprinkle of your cereal is called sucrose, which is produced from sugar beets or sugar cane. The primary sugar in fruit is called fructose, and there is a naturally occurring sugar in milk called lactose. When you consume a fruit, a vegetable or milk you cannot avoid consuming these natural sugars as they are already there.
All sugars ultimately end up in the bloodstream in the form of glucose, which is the bodies preferred form of fuel. While sugars end up in the bloodstream as glucose, so do the end products of the digestion of all carbohydrate rich foods like fruits, vegetables and starchy foods, meaning that not only are you taking in the sugars, you are also taking in alot of the goodness from the fruit or vegetable you have just consumed.
The main concern revolves around added sugar. Sugar intake from added sugar (not naturally occurring ones) supply us with calories we do not need, they are considered ‘empty calories,’ meaning they supply energy but offer little in terms of vitamins and minerals. You want to make your calories count right? Unfortunately sugar from added sugar doesn’t help that much.
We eat alot of sugar even in food that doesn’t taste sweet. Besides from the obvious we can also find sugar in condiments, soups, breads, and even in savoury foods, but does sugar make you fat? Well certainly sugar adds extra calories to your diet and extra calories can mean extra weight. The problem with added sugar is it doesn’t fill you up as there is little or no fibre, vitamins or minerals, therefore you consume alot more of these to feel full. Pre packed foods are also high in sugar to keep them fresh and prolong their shelf life, but have very little nutritional density.
Since we live in a calorie rich society, it isn’t easy to find healthy, low calorie food, and what healthy food we do find tends to be double the price and have a short shelf life so needs to be consumed fairly soon after purchase. Whether you are in an airport or a petrol station, it is hard to find healthy food to go. Next time you are in a petrol station, airport, or local convenience shop take a look around, I can guarantee you will see alot of crisps, sweets, crackers , donuts, muffins and fizzy drinks.
The issue is that many foods that have added sugar are also high in fat and high in calories – cakes, pastries, chocolate. Food manufacturers are more than happy to accommodate the consumer’s sweet tooth as sugar is relatively inexpensive and adds lots of taste to food.
Sugar comes in many different forms when it is added to food so it is important to understand how much you are actually consuming. If you look at a food label you many come across words such as sucrose, fructose, glucose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, invert sugar, raw sugar, turbinado sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, brown rice syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltodextrin, corn syrup, honey, maple syrup and molasses – these are all different variations of sugar and you will probably see a few of these on each food label.
How can you reduce your sugar intake?... Look for foods that contain natural sugars, which should be primarily from fresh, whole fruit. Rather than adding honey or syrup to your food such as cereal, try adding fresh fruit instead. Look for wholegrain cereals without added sugar, and keep healthy snacks around to reduce temptation from sweets. If you do add sugar to your food, try to reduce this steadily to come off of it. The take home message here is that we need to reduce the added sugar in our diet, and get our sugar primarily from fresh sources, and not all sugars are bad however the quantity of sugar we take in through our diets needs to be reduced to lead a healthier longer life.
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