Sugar is the new enemy:  Fad or fact?

It seems sugar has taken over from fat as the latest enemy of good health, but does this sweet substance deserve all the bad press it’s getting?

It seems like every second day there’s a new fad diet to raise a glass of beetroot juice to. Fad diets go back decades, with some making multiple appearances. The grapefruit diet was first touted in the 1930s, the cabbage soup diet is thought to date back to the 1950s and the Paleo diet was first popularised in a best-selling book in the early 2000s.
Now it’s sugar in the spotlight – again.
 
In the 1990s it was the Sugar Busters Diet, and more recently, Aussie Sarah Wilson has achieved global recognition with her I Quit Sugar program.
 
On the other hand, there’s been a vocal backlash against anti-sugar regimes, with critics claiming that, just like fats, not all sugars are bad for you.

On the big screen, the documentary That Sugar Film shows actor Damon Gameau eating the equivalent of 40 teaspoons of sugar a day in everyday foods perceived as ‘healthy’ for 60 days, and seeing what happens to his health. Damon ends up gaining 8.5kg and 10cm of fat around his middle.

So, what’s the real story? 

Keep: Natural sugars in nutrient-rich foods

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that we should be eating fewer than 50 grams (equivalent to around 12 teaspoons) of ‘free’ or added sugar a day. Eating less added sugar – roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day – is even better for our health. To put that in context, 375mL of soft drink can contain around 10 teaspoons of sugar. 

‘Free’ sugars include glucose, fructose and sucrose (table sugar) and other sugars that are added to foods and drinks by manufacturers, or that you add to food you eat at home. They also include the sugars naturally found in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates. Eating too much added sugar can contribute to weight gain, increase the risk of becoming overweight or obese, and increase the likelihood of developing tooth decay. 

The WHO guidelines do NOT refer to the sugars naturally present in fresh fruits and vegetables, and milk, because there are no adverse effects of consuming these foods.
family cooking

Three ways to reduce sugar

The solution? Reduce your consumption of added sugars while maintaining a healthy diet that’s rich in vegetables, fruit, dairy and eggs. 

If you’re finding it’s tricky to cut back on sugar, Bupa Accredited Dietitian Rosalyn D’Angelo has the following tips:
 
1.  Download the free FoodSwitch app
 
The FoodSwitch app allows you to use your mobile phone to scan the barcode of foods to assess the health quality of the items while shopping at the supermarket. The SugarSwitch feature will help you find items lower in sugar.
 
D’Angelo suggests using the app to find products with less than 15g of sugar per 100g, or for drinks 7.5g per 100mL.
 
“If the food contains fruit, up to 25g of sugar per 100g is fine as a lot of the sugar is coming from the fruit,” says D’Angelo.
 
2.  Go natural often
 
“Choose foods as close to their natural state as possible. If a food doesn’t require a label, or has a very short ingredients list, it’s likely to be a better choice,” says D’Angelo.
 
Snack on nuts and veggie sticks and opt for fresh fruit over fruit juice.
 
“Whole fruit has all the benefits of the skin and pulp. The fibre will help keep you full and satisfied. Fruit juice can be quite a concentrated source of fruit sugar – think of how many oranges you need to make one glass of juice.”
 
3.  Gradually reduce sugar in your daily life
 
To avoid lots of added sugar, make food from scratch including sauces and baked goodies.
 
D’Angelo recommends experimenting by halving the sugar used in recipes and using substitutes such as unsweetened applesauce, beetroot or dried fruit.
 
But most of all, don’t be too hard on yourself. The best way to tackle your sugar intake is to do it gradually. Try to slowly phase out sugar by reducing the amount you have in tea, coffee, breakfast cereal and porridge. That way you’re more likely to keep the sugar cravings at bay.

A balanced approach

So read your labels, look to reduce added sugar in your food and drinks and enjoy a balanced range of healthy, delicious foods – that’s the real headline!
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