Sugar is a component of every diet. Eat it in moderate amounts, and it keeps you energised. Eat it excessively, and you could put yourself at risk of developing several chronic conditions. In this blog post, I suggest simple ways to reduce your sugar intake.
Without a doubt, sugar is the most heavily debated and highly controversial topic in nutrition. While some scientists believe that it is to blame for the increasing rates of heart disease, obesity, cancer and other lifestyle-related conditions, others suggest that there is no link between sugar and these conditions.
The media propagates these conflicting views, making the decision to eat or avoid sugar very confusing for the public. Is sugar the fiend that it is made out to be?
Well, the answer depends on the type of sugar we’re talking about here.
Sugar is naturally present in food such as fruits, vegetables and grains. Conversely, foods like soft drinks, biscuits, ice cream and confectionary contain artificial sugar.
Whether it is added artificially or present naturally, your body processes sugar identically. The only difference is that in whole foods, where it is intrinsically present, it comes as a package with fibre and other highly beneficial vitamins and minerals.
Fibre slows down the rate at which your body processes sugar and prevents insulin spikes that may lead to sugar-related metabolic disorders. Foods that contain artificial sugar are usually commercially-made and nutrient-poor. They often predispose you to tooth decay, unnecessary weight gain, and potentially, other chronic conditions as a direct result of being overweight.
How much sugar is too much?
Sugar should make up a maximum of 10% of your daily energy intake, according to government guidelines. Ideally, free sugar should contribute a maximum of 5% to your daily total sugar allowance. This means that adults should have no more than 30g of free sugar per day. Children aged 7-10 years should have no more than 24g, and those aged 4-6 should have no more than 19g. It is not always easy to tell whether the packaged foods are high in sugar. As a general rule, food is classified as
- high in sugar if it contains more than 22.5g of total sugar 100g
- low in sugar if it contains less than 5g of total sugar per 100g
- medium if it contains 5g-22.5g of total sugar per 100g
Even if you eat the healthiest diet possible, the chances are that you still consume a lot more sugar than you think. This is true especially if you regularly drink sweetened plant-based milk, or add maple syrup, honey, molasses or other ‘natural’ sweeteners to your breakfast bowls. Store-bought pasta sauces, condiments, fruit juice (whether or not it contains added sugar), low-fat biscuits and other commercial products also include a significant amount of sugar.
In most cases, industrially-produced high-sugar foods are high in overall fat and saturated fat. It is the combination of excessive sugar and fat intake that leads to chronic conditions. In essence, sugar alone is not the devil people make it out to be. It comes down to the source of sugar in your diet and the overall composition of your diet.
Moreover, it is practically impossible to eliminate sugar if you eat a whole food plant-based vegan diet. However, there are ways to reduce the amount you eat by making smart swaps.
How to reduce your sugar intake
Read the ingredients in packaged foods
Make it a habit of reading the ingredients on packaged foods. The higher up sugar is on the list of ingredients, the more sugar it contains. Sugar is not always listed as sugar. It goes by different names including:
- high-fructose corn syrup
- agave nectar
- raw sugar
- brown sugar
- invert sugar
Sugar is not only present in soft drinks, candy, cakes and biscuits. It is also present in seemingly innocent foods like pasta sauces, smoothies, fruit juices, energy drinks, baked beans, yoghurt, dried fruit, and nut butter.
Choose unsweetened varieties of plant-based dairy alternatives
Fortified plant-based dairy alternatives are a common component of vegan diets because they are an accessible source of vitamin-d, vitamin b-12 and calcium. However, sweetened varieties of these alternatives often contain a substantial amount of sugar. Alpro is one company that has begun creating an unsweetened range of plant-based milk and yoghurt that contain virtually no added sugar or artificial sweeteners.
The unsweetened range contains less than <5.7g of sugar per 100g, and they’re all naturally low in fat. Each 200ml serving provides an incredible 30% of your daily recommended calcium and vitamins B2, B12, d, and E.
- For breakfast, swap high-sugar milk drinks with Alpro’s range of unsweetened drinks in your smoothies, porridge, muesli or pancake batter.
- Use bananas instead of sugar (agave nectar, maple syrup, coconut sugar etc.) to sweeten pancakes or cakes.
- Drink water with meals instead of fizzy drinks or sugary fruit juice
- Eat fruit for dessert instead of cookies, cakes or ice cream
- If you really want a high sugar snack, choose a smaller portion and treat it as a treat – something you occasionally have, not regularly.
Alpro’s range of unsweetened drinks is available at most grocery supermarkets in the UK including, Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsburys and Iceland.