Do you really need to quit sugar?
Should you cut all sugar out of your diet? Accredited Practising Dietitian Rachel Jeffery breaks it down.
There is a lot of noise in the media around sugar. While most eating plans and ‘diets’ have great principles around eating healthier – including lots of fresh produce and cutting back on processed foods – banning, shaming and isolating foods as the sole cause of diet-related health issues is not supporting people to select a wholesome diet.
When diet plans and lifestyles promote ‘quitting sugar’ we need to look more closely at what that means. There are some sugars (better known as carbohydrates) that we can all definitely cut back on in our diets. However, there are others that should be included to provide lasting energy along with required vitamins and minerals.
First we need to look at what ‘sugars’ in our diet should be removed or avoided. Most people think of sugar as the sweet white crystals added to tea, coffee, baking, chocolates and confectionery. Sugar (or sucrose) is just one member of the carbohydrate group.
White cane sugar is often called a ‘simple sugar’ and it is this sugar which can be reduced in our diet. This sugar is widely used in the food manufacturing industry to make cakes, biscuits, confectionery and chocolate, as well as added to sweeten sauces, spreads, soft drinks, cordials, and added in cooking and at the table.
The following simple sugars are not essential in the diet and can be reduced:
• White table sugar (sucrose)
• Brown sugar (light and dark)
• Honey and maple syrup
• Agave syrup
• Coconut sugar
• High-fructose corn syrup
Some people may find the above list surprising, and perhaps have been told that some of the sugars on this list were good to have as a sugar replacement. But these are all simple sugars and add little nutritional value to the diet.
So while simple sugars are not solely to blame for the growth of obesity and diet-related diseases seen in the community, when combined with foods high in fat and salt, low fibre foods and poor activity levels they can lead to weight gain and poor health.
"White cane sugar is often called a ‘simple sugar’ and it is this sugar which can be reduced in our diet."
The other form of carbohydrates, often called complex carbohydrates, includes:
• High fibre and wholegrain cereals including multigrain breads
• Fibre-enriched or wholegrain breakfast cereals
• Brown rice
• Oats, barley, quinoa
Whole grains and high-fibre or low GI carbohydrates (which means their energy is absorbed more slowly) are great for bowel regularity and increasing satiety (feeling full), and can help reduce your risk of bowel cancer, diverticulitis and haemorrhoids. Other great sources of carbohydrates foods include fruits and dairy foods (milk and yoghurt). All these carbohydrate foods provide sustained energy, as well as proteins and essential vitamins and minerals.
It is agreed the average person eats too many simple sugars from processed foods, sweetened drinks, confectionery and treats. These foods can be reduced or avoided. It is okay to indulge in sugary foods from time to time for special occasions including celebrations or parties, as long as these are not every day, or happening several times a week.
Complex carbohydrates from wholegrain breads and cereals, fruits, and dairy foods (low in added sugars), can be enjoyed and included in the diet at every meal and snack over the day.