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Sugar in the Diet

Sugar in the Diet

by FoodMaestro | 17 June 2016

Practical tips to reduce the amount of sugar you eat

By: Rhiannon Lewis (Student Dietitian)

Most of us have a bit of a sweet tooth, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying some chocolate cake or some jam on our toast but moderation is the key here.

Why is it a good idea to reduce sugar in the diet?

It is sugar which gives foods a sweet flavour. Sugar is the simplest building block of all carbohydrates and must exist freely in food to provide that sweetness. For this reason, when you eat sweet foods with free sugars the sugar reaches your bloodstream more quickly than if you ate foods in which the sugar is bound (starchy carbohydrates like potatoes, pasta, rice, etc). This is why moderation is needed to prevent long-term spikes in blood sugar levels which can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and prevent damage to nerves, eyes, kidneys and blood vessels after diagnosis.

How much is too much?

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recommends that we get up to 5% of their daily calories from free sugars which equates to approximately 30g per day. Nutrition labels on foods can tell you if there is a high or low amount of sugar in the product; high in sugar means 22.5g or more of total sugar per 100g whilst low in sugar means 5g or less of total sugar per 100g.

Hidden sugars

Not all sugars are obvious in pre-packed food products on the shelves. There are many different names for sugar when it comes to ingredients. As well as looking for ingredients with sugar, honey, syrup, nectar and molasses in their names look out for other names like glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, dextrose, maltodextrin, lactose, caramel, juices and sugar alcohols (sorbitol, xylitol and mannitol). The Food Maestro app is great to help you seek out the best versions for your shopping list. You can even save a shopping list on the app which will save you time in the shop.

Breakfast ideas

Sugary breakfast choices include many breakfast cereals possibly with a sprinkle of sugar and jam or chocolate spreads on toast.

More healthy alternatives to sugary breakfast cereals include plainer options such as plain porridge, wheat biscuits or wholegrain cereals. If you’re not a huge fan of these as they are you could always add some fruit to it to inject your favourite flavours instead of adding sugar at the table. The fruit can be fresh, frozen or tinned (if tinned aim for fruit in juice rather than syrup). For example, you could try adding mashed banana or chopped apple to a bowl of plain porridge. There is the added benefit of getting one of your five-a-day of fruit and vegetables!

Mashed banana can also be an alternative to jams and other spreads. Or you could opt for a thinner layer of your spread or low-sugar versions.

Lunch and Evening Meal ideas

The easiest way to reduce your sugar intake during lunch and evening meals is to opt for non-processed foods. This is because many processed pre-made foods have those hidden sugars added to them and often in high amounts.

Many salad dressings, soups, pasta sauces, ready meals and takeaways are high in sugar.

For example, you could make your own sandwich, wrap or salad at home for lunch so you have control over the amount of dressing it has. You could also opt for low sugar versions for added bonus points.

Making your own pasta sauces can also go a long way to reducing your blood sugars. Some pre-prepared pasta sauces can contain over 25g of sugar per jar! The best thing is that you don’t have to be a whizz in the kitchen to make it either!

The same applies to ready meals and takeaways. If you’re too short on time or don’t yet feel confident enough to try to make your own version for lunch or evening meals, try to steer clear of items and dishes which are especially high in sugar such as sweet and sour, sweet chilli, barbeque sauce and curry dishes.

Snack ideas

Biscuits, cakes, cereal bars and chocolate are all tempting when you feel you need an energy boost.

Healthy alternatives to these include unsalted nuts and rice cakes and the most natural grab-and-go snack- fruit. Getting you even closer to your five-a-day! Choosing a variety of fruit from day to day will help keep the swap for food enjoyable.

These alternatives contain considerably lower amounts of sugar and so may not be as appealing as that biscuit or that chocolate when you’re lacking energy. Try not to allow your energy levels to drop so low that you are craving an instant sugar boost to take the edge off any cravings.

However, if you do not want to swap your snacks completely, you could try better versions of them. For example, a plain cake instead of a chocolate cake or a low-calorie hot chocolate instead of a chocolate bar.

Drink ideas

Tea, coffee, fizzy drinks, some flavoured water, fruit juices and squash can all contribute to around a quarter of our daily sugar intake.

If you have sugar in your tea or coffee, you can try adding half or one less teaspoon to begin cutting it down. Or you may like to try sweeteners to replace all of the sugar in your tea or coffee. Also, aim to have plainer coffee flavours over vanilla, hazelnut etc. as these flavours are added using syrups.

Aim to replace fizzy drinks with other drinks such as water, flavoured water or milk. Or aim for low sugar fizzy drinks if you are not ready to cut these out of your diet.

Some flavoured water is high in sugar so read the nutrition labels to seek out the ‘no added sugar’ low sugar options. The same caution applies to squash.

Fruit juice provides your body with vitamins and minerals including antioxidants. As they can provide you with one of your five-a-day, the aim is not to cut this out of the diet. Instead, aim to keep fruit juice portions to 150mls to receive the benefit of the vitamins and minerals while moderating your sugar intake.

What if I find it difficult?

It can take some time for your taste buds and preference to adjust to less sugary foods so hang in there! You may be in the camp where people like to make changes quickly, or you may be in the camp where people like to ease themselves in slowly. Both ways work and you should decide what is best for you. If you prefer a slower approach you may want to make changes to a particular meal a day, such as breakfast. Or you may like to aim for low sugar days every other day. The aim is to make sustainable changes which can be built up towards an overall low sugar diet.

Use an app to assist you. 

Be sugar smart try the FoodMaestro FREE app to scan how much sugar is in the products you buy and use the quick sugar filters to find healthy options.