The effects of sugar on the body really are dependent on the volume being consumed. We all love a little bit of something sweet from time to time. A bit of chocolate, the occasional piece of cake, honey in your tea, bliss balls or raw desserts. What’s not to like? I think these things can absolutely form part of a healthy, wholefoods diet in moderation.
Trouble is though, most of us are no longer enjoying sugar on occasion. With or without our knowing we now consume sugar multiple times a day. You know you’re having it if you choose a pastry or a chocolate bar. Would you expect to find it in your salad dressing though? Unlikely.
Manufacturers use sugar to increase flavour, texture and shelf-life. It’s also well-known that sugar is addictive so of course, your dependence on their products is the end goal.
Why does it matter how much sugar I have?
The negative effects of sugar consumed in excess are actually quite alarming. Firstly, having too much sugar can contribute to weight gain. Then there is the role that sugar can play in the onset of Type 2 diabetes, gut dysbiosis (an imbalance in the gut microbiome), acne, heart disease, increased blood pressure, creating chronic inflammation and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease just to name a few (1-4) .
Sources of sugar
Sugar is found in both highly refined and less refined forms. Highly refined varieties include things like white and brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, icing sugar, fruit juice concentrate and glucose syrup. You can find these – or one of many others – in things like soft drinks (soda), fruit juices, cereals and granola, muesli bars, soups, bacon, store bought stock, flavoured yoghurts, highly processed meats and cheeses, mustard, store bought sauces, crackers and the list goes on. Many of these things contain whopping amounts of sugar too, which is hidden by the use of a stack of other fancy names for sugar.
More natural forms of sugar are also available and include raw honey, maple syrup, dates, evaporated cane juice and molasses. These are much less refined and contain several important nutrients like vitamins and minerals. You might use these to make a nourishing dessert, or they might be in your favourite organic chocolate or kombucha. These are definitely better choices for you however, they’re still sugar so should be enjoyed occasionally rather than regularly.
What about fruit, grains and some of the sweeter vegetables?
Of course, sugar is present naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates. This includes grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables. Consuming these foods is in no way the same thing as consuming added sugars. Plant-based, wholefoods that contain high amounts of fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are supportive of good health. These nutrients assist in the slow digestion of these foods and the natural sugar they contain provides a steady supply of energy to our cells throughout the day. In addition, years of research has shown that wholefood diets that include these foods are health promoting (5). The Mediterranean diet is the perfect example. It is high in vegetables, fruit and whole grains and is known to reduce our risk of chronic diseases.
And how about alcohol?
The issue with alcohol is two-fold. Alcohol like wine (depending on the style), cider, cocktails, liqueurs and mixers can all contain sugar while distilled spirits don’t. However, I still recommend cutting alcohol intake right down or cutting it out completely when trying to reduce sugar. This is because alcohol most certainly does affect your willpower. After a few drinks many people reach for foods they might not necessarily have otherwise chosen… often sugary ones with a high fat content too.
How much sugar should I be having each day?
To avoid the negative effects of sugar on health, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend having no more than 10% of total energy intake from added sugars. They suggest further reducing this to no more than 5% of total energy intake for added health benefits (6). For the average Australia, this would equate to:
- Women – Roughly five to six teaspoons of sugar per day (~25g) and;
- Men – Roughly seven to nine teaspoons per day (~38g)
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics though, the average Australian adult consumes ~60 grams of added sugars per day. That’s about 14 teaspoons of sugar, which is well over WHO’s healthy limit. Additionally, they found that Australian male teenagers consumed in excess of 20 teaspoons of sugar (~92g) per day. TWENTY (7)!
How do I know which foods are good to choose when shopping?
Doing most of your shopping in the fresh food aisles will always serve you well. But of course, we do need some pantry staples off the supermarket shelves too. When looking at ingredient labels, choose foods that have less than 1 tsp of sugar (~5g) per serve. Most importantly, when planning your meals for the week, keep in mind WHO’s recommendation for sugar intake. No more than six teaspoons per day for women and no more than nine teaspoons per day for men.
How can I break the sugar habit?
If you know sugar is a problem for you, or you’re subsequently feeling the physical effects… my article on ‘How to beat sugar cravings‘ will help you kick those cravings to the curb.
What else can I do?
If a month off sugar sounds like just the ticket for you but you’re not sure where to start, consider joining in things like Sugar Free September for a little inspiration. If you’re looking to tidy up your diet in general and beat those sugar cravings for good – I’d love to help support you on that journey. Book in for a consultation today and we can get started on achieving your health goals.
- Added sugars drive coronary heart disease via insulin resistance and hyperinsulinaemia: a new paradigm
- Diet-Induced Dysbiosis of the Intestinal Microbiota and the Effects on Immunity and Disease
- Risk factors for type 2 diabetes mellitus: An exposure-wide umbrella review of meta-analyses
- Stress, Food, and Inflammation: Psychoneuroimmunology and Nutrition at the Cutting Edge
- The Immune Protective Effect of the Mediterranean Diet against Chronic Low-grade Inflammatory Diseases
- World Health Organization Guideline: Sugars Intake for Adults and Children
- Australian Health Survey: Consumption of added sugars, 2011-12