We tend to make a conscious effort to cut down our sugar consumption, because we intuitively feel that sugar is evil. Campaigns and advertisements constantly vilify sugar in favour of chemical substitutes.
How can we possibly eliminate sugar altogether?
Isn’t it the most irresistible thing?
But wait a minute; is sugar really bad?
93% of children eat packaged food more than once a week
59% of children aged between 14 years and 17 years consume packaged beverages or meals at least once a day.
91% of children carry a lunch box from their homes, but 40% of children consume packaged food at school almost daily. **
In the UAE,
47% of adults dine out 2-3 times a week, and 17% of adults say that they eat out/order in every single day.**
But bear in mind, packaged food is full of artificial sugars and oils that are used as preservatives.
What is sugar?
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate found in food and beverages. After consumption of food the sugar gets broken down into glucose that is used for energy. A sugar is of many types and has different functions in our body. It is important to understand what type of sugar is good for our body.
Artificial Vs Natural Sugar:
Artificial sugars are added while preparing or processing food and beverages. Eg., candy soda, diet sodas, sausages, chips, cereals, ready to eat/make packaged food. Artificial sugar is used in food to increase the shelf life. They contain no nutrients, hence the blood sugar level spikes up rapidly and drops soon. They provide empty calories. Our pancreas create insulin to stimulate the storage of blood sugar in the form of Fat or Glycogen. This makes us lazy and lethargic. Therefore, we tend to feel hungry soon after eating processed food.
Natural sugar occurs naturally in our daily food. E.g., fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy. Natural sugars are better than artificial sugars as they contain more nutrients and we benefit from the fibre content of the food they are found in. Fibre helps control the spike in blood sugar level, and helps us feel fuller for a longer period of time.
What happens if we over eat sugar?
Over consumption of sugar is linked with several avoidable heart problems, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
According to the AHA (American Heart Association), the daily sugar intake recommended for men is not more than 9 Teaspoons (35 grams) and 6 Teaspoons (25 grams) for women.
If we consider a breakfast of 1 sunny side up with 2-3 slice of bread, butter, fruit jam and a glass of packaged orange juice, we have probably exceeded our daily sugar limit. Hence, its ideal to choose food carefully.
How can we avoid buying ‘added sugar’ products?
Be aware of misleading advertisements:
Little do we know, when we read ‘100% fruit juice’, ‘No added sugar’, ‘Healthy’, ‘Zero calories’, ‘Diet cola’, ‘Heart Healthy’, ‘Sugar-Free’, ‘Fat Free’ or ‘Made with real honey’ advertised on packages are not necessarily good for health, they may contain added sugar.
We must learn to pay attention to the Nutritional Facts printed at the back of our cereals or juices, which clearly indicate the content of dietary nutrients.
Pay attention to these names of artificial sugars on the labels:
Concentrated fruit juice
High-fructose corn syrup
Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
Don’t be fooled with the serving size:
We generally consume more than the serving size mentioned on the packaging.
A serving size mentioned may refer to a 1/2 cookie or just a 1 slice of bread. Make sure we know what and how much of it we are consuming/ serving.
What are the alterations we can consider to avoid artificial or added sugar?
Replace sodas*, energy drinks, packaged juices and pre-sweetened teas with water, homemade lemonade, infused water with mint, berries, cucumber, lemon or orange, or fresh coconut water.
Craving for sweets can be a false trigger for thirst, try drinking a glass of water before if you are craving for something sweet.
Purchase plain yoghurt ***and jazz it up with fresh or frozen berries instead of buying flavoured, sugar-loaded yoghurt from the market.
Consume whole fruits like banana as a natural sweetener instead of sugar in a smoothie.
Replace candy with homemade cookies for kids.**
Try fruits for dessert after dinner, banana + yoghurt, chocolate strawberry or a simple fruit salad with maple syrup.
Use olive oil, vinegar, honey for a salad instead of a packaged salad dressing.
Make your own granola.
Instead of jelly, slice fresh bananas onto your peanut butter sandwich.
Use natural nut butter in place of off-the-shelf manufactured chocolate spread.
Avoid alcoholic beverages that are sweetened with soda, juice, honey, sugar or agave.
Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, focusing on fresh, whole ingredients.
To wrap up:
Not all sugar is ‘bad’, natural sugars are good, and food in which natural sugars are found have the added advantage of nutrients, fibre and minerals. We encourage preparing your own healthy meals at home and avoid buying foods and drinks that are high in artificial/added sugar.
Eliminating sugar completely from our diet is impossible, unhealthy and certainly not recommended.
* Avoiding carbonated drinks helps prevent bloating.
** Involving children in small activities to make food will certainly build their interest in healthy eating. Celebrate homemade food as a treat.
*** Milk and Yogurt contains natural sugar Lactose along with proteins, vitamins and some minerals which can be difficult to obtain from other food sources.