Something that still troubles me is that people still don’t really seem to understand the truth about sugar. What it is, what it’s in and why it’s not so good for our health? How much sugar should we eat is a question that many people ask me.
This article aims to explain in a little more detail the truth about sugar and how much sugar is ok for you.
The press keep talking about sugar and that’s because we DO eat too much of the stuff. However, that’s not to say that sugar is the devil or that we should cut it completely from our diet. That’s also not to say that we don’t need to watch our intake of other ingredients such as fat and salt too.
Should We Be “Sugar Free?”
So many magazine articles, health bloggers and nutrition ‘experts’ will have you believing that the only way forward when it comes to the sweet white stuff, is to cut it entirely from our diets. Many foods are now advertised as “sugar free” and celebrities, bloggers and cook books have tapped into the popular “ditch the sugar” craze too. Even the “Great British Bake Off”, had a ‘sugar free’ cake week last year (which actually turned out not to be sugar free at all!).
However life, food and nutrition isn’t black and white. It’s not about all or nothing. For example if you love ice cream, seriously depriving yourself of it is likely to lead to one thing – more of a desire for ice cream! So always remember that a little of what you fancy is OK. What we do need to look out for is the amount and frequency with which we eat sugar.
How much sugar should we eat?
A new government report last year halved our recommendations for free sugars and so current recommendations are that we should have no more than 5% of our energy intake coming from free sugars. This table from Public Health England’s “Why 5%” report nicely shows how much this equates to for adults and children.
The new sugar recommendations from the UK Government came after extensive research, which seemed to suggest that that public health would benefit from having even less sugar in our diets.
The report from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition concluded that:
- Studies indicate that higher consumption of sugars and sugars contained in foods and drinks is associated with a greater risk of tooth decay
- Trials in adults indicate that increasing or decreasing total energy (calorie) intake from sugars leads to a corresponding increase or decrease in energy intake
- Consumption of sugars-sweetened drinks (compared to low calorie drinks) results in greater weight gain and increases in body mass index in children and adolescents
- There is no association between the incidence of type 2 diabetes and total or individual sugars intake. But prospective cohort studies associate greater consumption of sugars-sweetened drinks with increased risk of type 2 diabetes
These are all the negative health effects that have so far been established from a high sugar consumption.
There is no research to suggest that sugar has any other negative effects and so when you next read an article telling you that sugar is toxic, that it affects your immune system or that it is responsible for multiple cancers, remember that there is NO evidence to show or prove this and therefore the quotes are misleading and wrong!
Of course anecdotal evidence from individuals may suggest that, for example, removing sugar from the diet improves skin or gives you more energy. Anecdotal research is interesting, but one person’s claim DOES NOT give you a cause and effect relationship between a food and health! Additionally sugars normally come hand in hand with other components such as fat, starch, dairy, additives and sweeteners. Additionally someone’s skin improvements, for example, could be down to a general reduction in processed or ‘junk’ foods which contain sugar, rather than sugar per se being responsible.
Are natural sugars OK to eat?
So, now I get to the crux of this article. Most people are still very confused about sugar and what sugar actually means.
Standard white table sugar (sucrose) is a disaccharide and is made up of glucose and fructose. It contains about 4 calories per gram and usually comes from beet or cane plants. Yes, that’s correct, white, refined sugar comes from plants (there goes the ‘natural’ claim for all those healthy sugar alternatives!) You can read more about the way sugar is processed here.
Honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, coconut syrup and any other ‘sugar alternative’ are still sugars. These sugars are made up of sugar molecules, such as the monosaccharides glucose and fructose which make up the majority of the sugar in honey. These ‘natural’ sugars also contain the same amount of calories, per gram as white sugar – 4 calories!
If you enjoy these alternative sugars, by all means include them in your diet in moderation. But please don’t include them thinking they are a ‘healthier option’ to standard sugar, as they still are sugars and contain the same number of calories. Any potential health benefits that you would get from eating these ‘healthier’ sugars would only come from eating excessive amounts of these sugars, and therefore this would negate any benefit as they would still have all the negative effects on health that are listed above.
The conclusion on sugar…
Remember, a little of what you fancy is fine. If you know you’re a bit of a sugar fiend and you regularly eat more than the recommendations above, you might want to think about cutting down on your intake of all things sweet and learning how much sugar is OK for your diet.
For more information on sugars see these blogs below:
See my blog on dental health