Cutting down on sugar: where to start

It’s the sweet question on everyone’s lips: am I eating too much sugar?

While completely cutting out sugar isn’t recommended, many people are consuming too much added sugar.
“Sugar CAN be part of a healthy diet. We find sugar naturally in fruits as fructose, as lactose in dairy products, and starch in vegetables and grains,” says Bupa dietitian Gemma Cosgriff. “It’s the sugar that is ADDED to food that we absolutely recommend cutting back on.”

How much sugar is okay?

 “The World Health Organization recommends that adults and children reduce their sugar intake to less than 10 per cent of their total energy. For an average person, that’s around 12 teaspoons, or 46 grams, of sugar per day,” explains Cosgriff.
If you think that sounds like a lot, you might be surprised.
“It is a lot, but that amount actually adds up really quickly, because added sugar is in a lot more foods than you might think,” says Cosgriff. “Many processed foods have sugar added by the manufacturer to make them more tasty.”
These added sugars can cause dental problems, weight gain, and perhaps even the desire to eat more sweet foods, which can lead to an increased risk of a number of other health problems including type 2 diabetes.
cubes of sugar

Tips to help you cut down on sugar

If you want - or need - to cut down on the amount of added sugar you eat, here are some tips:
  • Start well. When you’re doing your food shopping, begin in the fresh food section. “If you try to fill your trolley with fresh options then that will be a great start,” says Cosgriff.
  • Know what you’re eating. If you’re buying packaged foods, look at the labels so you know what’s in the food. Labels can be tricky to understand, so give Bupa’s free FoodSwitch app, which includes a Sugar Switch filter, a go. Simply scan the barcode of the food you’re considering with your smart phone and it will suggest similar lower sugar foods as an alternative.
  • Switch your drinks. Soft drinks should be consumed only occasionally and in small amounts, if at all. This is because one 600mL bottle of regular soft drink can contain up to 16 teaspoons of sugar! “Water is always the best choice,” says Cosgriff.
  • Breakfast can be a trap. Some cereals can be very high in sugar. Cosgriff says that although some can be good sources of fibre, iron and folate, it’s best to stick with more basic options. “I recommend rolled oats,” she says. “They’re great for bowel and heart health, they’re low GI, keep you feeling full, and don’t have added sugar or salt, although be careful of the quick-to-make options.” Another low sugar food for breakfast might be Greek-style yoghurt with fruit and nuts.
  • Watch your baking. If you’re baking something with sugar, you can try cutting down on the amount you put in. “You could also replace sugar with a natural sweet option, like fruit, unsweetened apple sauce or dairy,” says Cosgriff.
  • Give yourself time. It can take some time for your tastebuds to adjust to eating low sugar foods. “Your tastebuds rejuvenate, and if you stick to it you’ll get used to eating a lot less sugar in your diet,” says Cosgriff.

Bupa Health Insurance

Need advice? A dietitian can provide personalised advice. Depending on your cover, costs towards some visits may be covered under your private health insurance. 

Find out more
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