When it comes to cutting back on sugar, we all know the obvious things to avoid – soft drinks, chocolate, ice cream, lollies, cakes. But sugar goes by a few different names and can hide in places you might not expect. Whether you’re giving up sugar for FebFast or you just want to reduce your daily intake, the first step is understanding where that sugar is lurking and thinking about small, healthy changes you can make each day.
There are many different forms of sugar including raw sugar, white sugar and brown sugar to name but a few. Sugar occurs naturally in certain foods like fruits as fructose and in dairy products as lactose, and it is also added to a wide variety of foods, usually as sucrose.
According to nutritionist Catherine Saxelby, only 25 per cent of the sugar we ingest is sugar that we consciously add to food or drink, for example, adding a teaspoon of sugar to our tea or coffee. The other 75 per cent we consume as packaged food or drinks, such as soft drinks (one can contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar), chocolate (an average chocolate bar has about 8-9 teaspoons of sugar), biscuits (two Tim Tams equals 3.5 teaspoons of sugar) and sweets.
Treats aside, sugar also hides in all sorts of food that you may not realise, or that you might even consider healthy choices. According to nutritional biochemist and author Dr. Libby, recent trends indicate that the average sugar consumption in Australia and New Zealand is a whopping 28.5 teaspoons a day.
Here are some of the sources of sugar in your diet to look out for.
Most of us begin our day with breakfast and for a lot of people this means cereal. While it won’t come as a shocker to hear that cereals like Fruit Loops and Coco Pops are laced with sugar, it might be a surprise for some to hear that even cereals like muesli, Sultana Bran and Special K contain sugar. A bowl of muesli can have up to three teaspoons of sugar, while a bowl of Sultana Bran has around 2.5. Nutritionist Catherine Saxelby recommends we look for cereals with less than 15 per cent sugar or less than 25 per cent in cereals that contain dried fruit.
2. Fruit juice
The juice you’re washing that cereal down with may contain large amounts of sugar as well – a glass of orange juice can have up to seven teaspoons! Swap store-bought orange juice for freshly squeezed and you can reduce your sugar intake by up to three teaspoons. If freshly squeezed juice isn’t an option, try to choose juices with ‘no added sugar’ on the label.
A lot of commercially made smoothies contain added sugar. If you have the time to make your own, that’s a much better way to make sure the only sugar going in is naturally occurring sugars from fruit, milk or yoghurt. Need some smoothie inspiration?
4. Marinades and condiments
Tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, salad dressing, pasta sauce – these are all often laden with corn syrup and preservatives, so check the nutritional information and look for healthier varieties whenever you can. Try swapping heavy, preservative-filled marinades with simple ingredients like olive oil and fresh herbs and spices. When shopping, look for a sauce where any type of sugar is either not listed at all or is listed near the end of the ingredient list.
A little 200 g tub of yoghurt may seem innocent, but some brands can pack as much as six teaspoons of sugar. Some of this may be naturally occurring sugar, but you should still be aware and check the ingredients. Catherine Saxelby advises looking for yoghurts with 15 per cent or less sugar in them –or better still, opt for a natural, unflavoured yoghurt which should only contain about 8 per cent or less sugar.
While it is important to be aware that the foods we are eating may contain some level of sugar there is no major need to stress about a teaspoon of jam on your toast or having yoghurt as a midday snack. Just know the facts so you can try to make small changes that will lead to a lower overall intake of sugar. The most important thing is to limit intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars such as confectionery, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy and sports drinks. For more information, view the Australian Dietary Guidelines.