Sugar and its effects on health is a hot topic, with research starting to show that excess sugar intake can contribute to dental cavities, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity, among other health problems. The World Health Organisation even released guidelines about reducing our daily intake of sugar to less than 10%, which is around 12 teaspoons a day.
While most health professionals would definitely agree that reducing the amount of sugar a person eats is a great way to improve health, it’s important to note the difference between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars.
Naturally occurring sugars
These sugars are found in food such as fruit, some vegetables and dairy products. These foods provide plenty of nutrition. Fruit and vegetables are rich in fibre, phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals while dairy foods give us calcium, protein and vitamins and minerals too. So we definitely don’t want to be cutting these vital foods from our diets.
Sometimes called free sugars, added sugar is the type of sugar we want to be reducing. This is what is added to food products by food manufacturers, or the extras you add to food and drinks – think sugar in tea or honey on cereal. Added sugar has more than 50 different names including dextrose, maple syrup, agave, glucose, invert sugar, evaporated cane juice and so on. This type of sugar does not provide us with much nutrition, so these are the ones we want to cut down on.
How to reduce added sugar in your diet
1. Swap granola for oats
While granola and toasted muesli appear to be a healthy option, both are made by tossing oats with sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup or sugar (along with oil and salt for flavour) and then toasted. So while they might taste good, they can be loaded with plenty of added sugar. A better option is to make your own oats. It’s cheaper, and it means you can see exactly what s being added to it. Use fruit and nuts to add flavour.
Save: Around 12 g of sugar per serve
2. Swap soft drink for sparkling water
A can of the fizz might taste great, but just one can of soft drink contains nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar! Instead, try a cold glass of mineral water loaded up with sliced fruit and a few sprigs of mint for a refreshing alternative. Keep a jug made up in the fridge so it is readily available.
Save: 10 g of sugar per drink
3. Swap packaged sauces for homemade
Take a peek at the ingredients panel of any of the packaged sauces on the shelves at the supermarket. You might be surprised to see how much sugar, salt, flavourings and colourings feature. Keep the sauces on the shelf, and try some of these swaps:
- Swap ketchup for salsa. Both feature tomato as the base, but while the ketchup will contain sugar or other sweeteners, salsa is simply made of tomatoes, onion, capsicum and some vinegar.
- Swap low-fat mayonnaise for a slice of avocado. Low-fat mayonnaise will generally have sugar added to boost the flavour, but a slice of avocado is naturally sugar-free and will have the same creamy taste as well as providing some nutrition.
- Swap hot chilli sauce for a sugar-free version. Look at your hot chilli sauce ingredient label. You might be surprised to see the majority of hot chilli sauces have sugar as the second or third ingredient. Go for Tabasco, fresh or dried chilli or Sambal Oelek, all which are sugar-free.
Save: 5 g of sugar per serve
4. Add sweet spices to food
Sprinkle cinnamon over your cereal or in your coffee instead of sugar, or use vanilla extract to impart a warm, rich aromatic flavour in foods. Using different flavours in food is a great way to give sweetness and complexity to dishes without relying on traditional sweetening agent. A teaspoon of vanilla extract does contain a little sugar (0.5 g) but this is far less than a teaspoon of sugar (4 g). Also, spices and vanilla extract also provide some antioxidants, so it’s still a fair alternative to a traditional teaspoon of sugar.
Save: 5 g of sugar a day
5. Use a smaller spoon
If you are finding it too hard to give up your sugar-topped cereal or having sugars in your coffee, try using a smaller spoon than normal. Your eyes will still see your normal one or two teaspoons of sugar, but there will be less on the spoon. It’s a small decrease so there won’t be much change in taste, but you will have reduced the amount consumed, which can add up in the long run.
Save: 5 g of sugar a day