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Sugar the Unsweet Truth!

by Penny Crowther(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 215 - July 2014

A new Canadian study has found that sugar can cause reactions similar to those to cocaine. This will not come as a surprise to many people struggling with addictions to all things sweet. 

Sour Facts about Sugar

It has been known for a long time that sugar causes tooth decay but there is now plenty of research linking sugar with cancer (tumours have insulin receptors which respond to spikes in insulin), diabetes, inflammation and oxidative stress which accelerates ageing.  In addition, mood swings, hormone imbalance, excess sweating, needing frequent caffeine, energy dips, decreased resistance to stress  and fat deposits around the middle are all associated with eating too much sugar.

Despite the emerging evidence, the various UK regulatory bodies are not acknowledging that sugar consumption has any negative effects on health other than on the teeth.  Comparisons are being made to the length of time it took to recognise the link between smoking and lung cancer due to pressure from the tobacco industry.

Penny Crowther Sugar the Unsweet Truth

‘Natural’ Sugar versus Added Sugar

First it is important to understand the difference between “added sugar” and intrinsic sugar.   Naturally occurring or intrinsic sugars includes sugars in for example, grains, dairy, fruit and vegetable. In this form the sugar occurs as part of the whole structure of the food, along with fibre and nutrients.

Generally speaking, naturally occurring sugars eaten as part of whole food  are better for you because the sugar is broken down and digested more slowly by the body.

On the other hand, there is no nutritional need for carbohydrates from “added sugar” which is highly concentrated and processed and is released into the blood quickly which puts stress on the body. Food labels don’t distinguish between added sugar and naturally occurring sugar which is not helpful.

When looking at food labels, more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g is high

5g of total sugars or less per 100g is low. 

The list below shows the typical sugar content of various foods. 1 teaspoon of sugar is 4g so if you want to work out the sugar content in teaspoons  when looking at food labels, divide the figure for the “carbohydrates as sugar” content by 4 . See how easy it is to exceed the 90g daily limit.

For fruits, whilst sugar consumed as part of whole fruit is preferable to other sources, its contribution to daily sugar intake is worth taking into account.

The Typical Sugar Content of Various Foods

Apple/orange around 23g

Portion red grapes 20g

Banana  17

Peach  15

Strawberries 7 (147g)

Pineapple 9 (112g serving)

Blueberries (145g serving) 15g

Cherries (117g) 15g

Raspberries (123) 5g

Innocent Pure Fruit Smoothie Strawberries & Bananas (250ml): 28g
Green & Blacks Dark chocolate 70% cocoa solids 12 pieces (40g) 12g

Green & Blacks Milk chocolate 12 pieces (40g) 19g

Gluten free chocolate muffin 25g

Chocolate rice cake 4.5g

Jordons Fruesli  bar red berry 10g

Bounce ball 8g

Nakd Bar cocoa/mint 15g

Mars Bar 32g

Can coke 33g

Large glass wine 2g

Different words for Sugar

As well as the obvious table sugar (sucrose) used to sweeten food or drinks, added sugar may appear in food as agave nectar, brown rice syrup, honey, fruit juice, jam, glucose, dextrose, fructose, invert syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, raw brown sugar, treacle.

How Much is Too Much?

The Government daily recommendation for total daily sugar intake (i.e. added and naturally occurring) is 90g daily (approximately 22 level teaspoons) for an average 2000 calorie diet

Total daily Added sugar levels are 50g (approximately 12 level teaspoons) for women and 70g (approximately 14 teaspoons) for men.  For children ages 5-10 it is 9 teaspoons per day.

This may sound a lot and it is, ideally less is better. However, it is relatively easy to exceed these amounts and many people do without realising.

What about Fructose?

Fructose is fruit sugar; it has a lower glycaemic index than glucose and is sweeter so less calorific. Fructose is found in fruit and vegetables especially root and this type of naturally occurring fructose comes with fibre and a range of vitamins and minerals. It is fine as part of a balanced diet.

This type of sugar, whilst part of a healthy diet, will still count towards the total daily intake of 90g.

Added Fructose is Bad News

If fructose is isolated and added to foods it is going to fall into the ‘added sugar’ category.  This could be in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar (which actually contains more fructose than HFCS), honey, brown rice syrup molasses or maple syrup. This type of added fructose is increasingly being found to be problematic to health. It turns much more quickly into fat than other types of sugar.  It also leads to reduced activity of the hormones insulin and leptin which have a strong impact on appetite and food intake. 

What About Fruit Juice and Smoothies?

Fruit juice, even freshly squeezed and the pure unsweetened varieties will quickly boost your daily sugar intake. The average glass of orange juice from concentrate contains 3.5 teaspoons of sugar.

Smoothies which contain fibre are slightly more beneficial. Fibre slows down the release of sugar into the blood and liver, giving the body more time to process it. However when a fruit is pulped as in a smoothie, the sugar is still processed more quickly than if the fruit were eaten whole.

Smoothies need to be home made with plain yoghurt, coconut milk and fruit and not bought. The commercial ones often have added fruit juice or juice concentrates which considerably increase the sugar content.

What About Alcohol?

Don’t forget alcohol will increase your daily sugar intake. Dry white or red wine or spirits with soda water as a mixer are the lowest sugar options. Beer is not that high in sugar but is very high in carbohydrates.

Tips for Reducing Sugar

  • Try cutting out sugar containing foods for one month to break the addictive cycle. Then re introduce on an occasional basis;
  • When following recipes halve the amount of sugar suggested. This works for most recipes except jam, ice cream and meringue;
  • Choose dark chocolate as your sweet treat which contains less sugar, no dairy or gluten and more antioxidants;
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with sparkling or still water especially in hot weather to avoid drinking more alcohol because of thirst;
  • Mixers can be very high in sugar – use soda water;
  • Avoid liqueurs which are extremely high in sugar (cocktails are often a sugar rich mix of liqueurs and high sugar mixers);
  • If you are going for sugar substitutes choose a pure stevia or xylitol and use sparingly;
  • Sugar alcohols such as xylitol and erythritol (which is often found mixed with stevia) have the advantage of being extremely low in calories and a minimal impact on blood sugar levels. But the reason for this is that they are not absorbed in the body hence they can sometimes cause gas and bloating.

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About Penny Crowther

Penny Crowther DN Med BANT NTCC qualified as a nutritional therapist in 1997 and has seen hundreds of clients at her practices in SW15. She has written for Positive Health, Families, Green Farm, Health Matters, The Health Times and contributed to articles for the Daily Telegraph, The Times Literary supplement, Pregnancy & Birth, Marie Claire, has been featured in the Daily Express, Daily Mirror and on local radio. She is a current member of the BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) and formerly sat on their ethics committee.

Experienced London nutritionist Penny Crowther has been in clinical practice for 20 years. Penny has been featured in the national press (including the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror) for her work with nutrition for fertility and is the author of many nutrition articles.

Penny’s approach to health is holistic, and takes into account emotional, mental and environmental factors as well as nutrition. She studied many complementary therapies before training as a nutritionist which provides a broad foundation of knowledge. She is dedicated to personal and professional development and frequently attends lectures and seminars to keep up to date with the latest scientific nutrition research. Penny may be contacted on Tel: 07761 768 754;   penny@nutritionistlondon.co.uk   www.nutritionistlondon.co.uk

Please note that nutritional advice is not a substitute for medical advice and treatment or visiting your GP or Health Professional.

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