Over the festive season, we’ve all over-indulged in sugar. Let’s face it, it’s hard not to with sugar in sweets, chocolates, biscuits, Christmas cake and Christmas pud, fizzy drinks, mixers and liqueurs, plus all those processed treats on Auntie Barbara’s buffet.
Chances are, like most people, you’re starting the New Year aiming to cut back on the sugar in your diet, but unfortunately, that might not be as easy as you think.
Cutting out the obvious sugar
Some sugar is easy to see and easy to eliminate. A can of Coke, for example, has 30g of sugar – around a third your daily recommended maximum intake, and chocolate bars range from 40% sugar in dark chocolate, 50% in milk chocolate and 60% or more in white chocolate. Easy enough to see and so easy to avoid.
Counting the sugar in your tea and coffee might seem easy too, but it’s worth bearing in mind the difference between the official measure of a teaspoon, which weighs just 4g, and the actually weight of your favourite large teaspoon (you know the one I’m talking about), heaped to its mathematical maximum, which can weigh as much as 8g or more – which is twice as much.
The sugar you don’t see
However, avoiding the obvious sugar is only half the battle, because there is hidden sugar in so many of our day to day foods, even the ones we think are healthy.
For example, you’d think that tomato pasta sauce would be a healthy choice, full of natural tomatoey goodness. Yet last year, Dolmio were forced to recommend that their sauces should only be used as a once a week treat due to their high sugar and salt content. Most branded pasta sauce is around 7% sugar, which is two teaspoons per person in an average portion.
Half a can of baked beans has over 10g of sugar, tomato ketchup is almost a quarter sugar and even apparently healthy choices, like cranberry juice, can be as much as a third sugar. Even brown bread is usually around 5% sugar, which means that each slice has almost 2g and a sandwich has a whole spoonful. Add salad cream at 17.5% sugar, or spread some jam on your toast and it soon starts to add up.
One of the worst meals for hidden sugar is breakfast, with one study finding that many children are consuming their entire daily allowance of sugar in their cereal before school has even started. Frosties and Crunchy Nut Cornflakes are a huge 35% sugar, while ‘Honey Monster Puffs’ (you probably know them as the more honest Sugar Puffs) are 29%.
Even ‘healthy’ options like muesli can be surprisingly high. Original recipe Alpen is a whopping 22% sugar, which gives you almost 10g of sugar in their recommended 45g portion (and even more if you don’t measure so carefully), while the famous ‘diet’ cereal Special K is 12% sugar.
A couple of cups of tea or coffee with sugar, a bowl of muesli and a slice of toast and jam and you could be well over half of your daily allowance before you leave the house.
Finding the hidden sugar
Sugar lurks in so many of our foods that it can be hard to keep track of it. It hides in the most unexpected places, such as supposedly healthy ‘low fat’ foods. What’s more, it disguises itself under a wide variety of names that don’t even sound like sugar, such as dextrose, fructose and agave. Women’s Health magazine found no less than 56 different names for sugar in the ingredients they checked.
Nutritional information is compulsory on food in the UK, so you can always check for the sugar content on the table provided, or to make life even easier, you can download the Be Food Smart app from the NHS Change 4 Life pages and simply scan the barcode to check the healthiness of your choices.
Lose sugar, gain taste
Cutting down on sugar won’t be easy, but it comes with its own rewards. Just like cutting down on salt, you’ll discover a whole new set of flavours and tastes that have previously been hidden by the sweetness. You’ll also start to lose weight and feel great.
In our next blog, we’ll take a look at how sugar is processed in your body, why we’re so addicted to it, and the role of sugar in the frightening rise in obesity and diabetes.