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Understanding and managing sugar in your diet

Understanding and managing sugar in your diet

by FoodMaestro | 1 December 2015

At FoodMaestro we are committed to helping you see what is really in our everyday food.

So, we thought it might be a good idea to give you an insight into all types of sugars (some good – some bad) that will help you know which is which. 

Don’t be scared of Natural Sugars!

Let’s start by not banning all sugars – they’re not all terrible! Lead dietitian at Guys and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust, Scott Pendleton, says “A healthy balanced diet is not about demonising one ingredient but it is important to know what is in your food to avoid unexpected added sugars, which can go by many names.” There’s really no reason to avoid the sugar that is naturally present in whole foods, such as fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy products – which naturally contain small amounts of sugar. But they also contain fibre, nutrients and various other beneficial compounds.

The negative health effects of high sugar consumption are due to the massive amount of added sugar that is present in the Western diet. Added (hidden) sugar may be the single unhealthiest ingredient in the modern diet and on average, we eat about 15 teaspoons of added sugar each day.  

Most of this is hidden within processed foods, so we don’t even realise we’re eating it. All this sugar is a key factor in the growing UK obesity epidemic and is associated with several major illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes. Dr Lauri-Ann van der Poel, a London-based paediatrician and allergist , says “Childhood obesity is a multi-faceted problem but we do we need our children to develop sweet palates based on unnecessary hidden sugars in foods? Teaching kids to know what is in their food, practising portion control and keeping indulgent treats as occasional, rather than everyday, is a part of stopping obesity before it starts.”

Sugar goes by many different names, so it’s very difficult to figure out how much a food may actually contain. The most effective way to reduce your sugar intake is to eat mostly whole and unprocessed foods. However, if you decide to buy packaged foods, be on the lookout for the many different names that sugar goes by.

So, what is ‘Added Sugar’?

During processing, sugar is added to food to enhance flavour, texture, shelf life and so on. Unfortunately, food manufacturers often hide the total amount of sugar by listing it under several different names on ingredients lists.  

Added sugar is usually a mixture of simple sugars such as glucose, fructose or sucrose, while other types - such as glucose, lactose and maltose - are less common.

Glucose or Fructose — is there a difference?

Glucose and fructose — even though they’re very common and often found together — have very different effects on the body.

Glucose can be metabolised by nearly every cell in the body, while fructose is metabolised almost entirely in the liver. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated the harmful effects of high fructose consumption.

Sugar or Sucrose – which is which?

Sucrose is the most common type of sugar. Often called “table sugar,” it is a naturally occurring carbohydrate found in many fruits and plants. Table sugar is usually extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets. It consists of 50% glucose and 50% fructose, bound together.

Sucrose is found in many foods, including ice cream, sweets, pastries, biscuits, fizzy drinks, fruit juices, processed meat, breakfast cereals and sauces, to name a few.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)?

High-fructose corn syrup is a widely used sweetener. It is produced from corn starch via an industrial process, and consists of both fructose and glucose. There are several different types of HFCS, which contain varying amounts of fructose.

Two notable varieties are:

  • HFCS 55: This is the most common type of HFCS. It contains 55% fructose and 45% glucose, which makes it similar to sucrose in composition.
  • HFCS 90: This form contains 90% fructose.

High-fructose corn syrup is found in many foods across the world. These include fizzy drinks, breads, biscuits, sweets, ice cream, cakes, cereal bars and many others.

Agave Nectar?

Agave nectar, also called agave syrup, is a very popular sweetener produced from the agave plant. It is commonly used as a “healthy” alternative to sugar because it doesn’t spike blood sugar levels as much as many other sugar varieties. However, agave nectar contains about 70–90% fructose, and 10–30% glucose.

Given the harmful health effects of excess fructose consumption, agave nectar may be even worse for metabolic health than regular sugar. It is often used in many “health foods,” such as fruit bars, sweetened yogurts and cereal bars.



1. * McCance and Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods integrated dataset (CoF IDS). 6th Edition