It is widely publicised that sugar is a key concern in our diets. I am sure you can all list several reasons why we should limit sugar intake. I won’t bore you with more.
Let’s understand what we are talking about. We are discussing reducing the added ones (like sugar in your coffee, maple syrup on your pancakes and sugar onto a breakfast cereal or yoghurt) AND the processed ones that have been added to our supermarket foods by the food manufacturers. Studies have identified that over 75% of supermarket foods have sugar added to them by manufacturers to ensure they satisfy our increasingly sugar addicted taste buds.
We are not including foods like fruit and vegetables with naturally occurring sugars. Our bodies know how to handle these sugars and can process them quickly. So here goes – here are my top 10 tips which I have been using and actively use today to reduce the amount of sugar in my diet and that of my family.
- Prepare your own meals from scratch using raw ingredients like vegetables and meat from the butcher. Try to avoid purchasing pre-made meals and pre-made sauces.
- Quit fizzy drinks altogether. They have no nutritional value. Recent studies suggest that the brain does not register the liquid sugar in them in the same way as it registers solid foods and they may therefore leave us feeling extra hungry.
- Prepare your own snacks if you are likely to be away from home. Try a boiled egg or can of tuna. (For lots more fun and healthy ideas please read my article on Snacking.)
- Clean out your pantry from temptation! Remove cereals, cakes, biscuits, chocolate and all those other naughties. Given we now know sugar is an addictive substance it stands to reason that the less we have the less we will crave it. It may seem tough now but eventually it gets easier. I would be a hypocrite if I were to say I have removed these items 100% from my diet. But – we do have these things only as treats nowadays. For example – I do not stock ice cream in my freezer but I will have ice cream infrequently when the family is out together. We do not eat cakes during the week but I might make one once a month at the weekend.
- Once the obvious pantry items have been removed, start to think how you can reduce the sugar in some of the other suspect items. A key one is yoghurt. We often think of yoghurt as a ‘safe’ food item but when we purchase pre-flavoured varieties the amount of processed sugars is actually quite high. Try purchasing a natural yogurt and add your own fruit to improve the taste.
- Think of other ways to introduce flavour to meals you prepare. People often revert to a pre-made sauce when the original meal is rather bland. But try introducing spices like chilli or turmeric instead. I once tried a weight watchers meal which was pork in a plum sauce. I was horrified that the plum sauce they suggested was pre-made and high in sugar. I produced a better alternative using frozen organic blackcurrants with added ginger and garlic.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners as alternatives. Several years ago it was all the rage to put saccharin into your coffee. Recent research suggests that we need to eradicate sugar totally rather than perpetuate the craving by using a sweetener. Some artificial sweeteners are actually sweeter than sugar making matters worse and studies have shown that this in turn can lead to weight gain. Aaaggghh – avoid them in the first place.
- Start to reduce the amount of sugar you add to items like a cake (even though you bake them less frequently as a result of this challenge!). I have learnt that you can reduce the sugar suggested in a recipe A LOT and barely affect the taste and texture of the cake. Over the last 3 years I have reduced many recipes by 50% plus with no complaints by my family. Rather they actually notice how sweet things are if I do follow a recipe and generally complain “It’s too sweet!”
- Learn to read the labels on food and start to avoid those with high sugar content. We are currently undergoing a change in the way food companies label sugar in their items. We really need to see the ‘Added Sugars” in an item NOT the naturally occurring sugars. But currently not all labels show these two facts separately making it rather tricky. More on label reading below!
- My final suggestion on reducing sugar is by doing the sugar challenge above. Translate the sugar in a serving of an item into teaspoons of sugar you will be eating. And beware – the serving size quoted by a manufacturer is often falsely SMALL to reduce the amount of sugar shown. For example – the serving size quoted may be only 30g in which 12g of sugar have been added – that’s 3 teaspoons. But – perhaps you realise you REAL portion size is double that – i.e. 6 teaspoons of sugar. Once you have determined the number of teaspoons of sugar, measure it out into a bowl in front of you. It will look scary. I once did this with my 10 year old son when he wanted to eat a massive sugar lolly. You know the kind – water flavoured with sugar and food colourings to make it look attractive and stuck onto a stick. (Why his drama club had decided on that as a prize for good performance I will never know or understand but that’s another story). The amount of sugar in that lolly amounted to 12 teaspoons of sugar. By the time I had measured 12 teaspoons into a bowl he didn’t want the lolly after all!
Detecting Sugar on a Food Label
This is such an important point that we will spend a bit more time on it. Manufacturers have been very clever over the years and found ways to deceive us amount the real amount of sugar in our processed foods. We have mentioned small portion size above in point 10 so now let’s look at what manufacturers can call ‘sugar’ to deceive us. We need to look for all the below names in the ingredients list to understand just how important ‘sugar’ is in the end product.
|Items ending in “ose” such as dextrose and sucrose, maltose
||High fructose corn syrup
||· Barley malt
||· Beet sugar
||· Coconut sugar
|· Cane sugar / Can juice crystals
||· Corn sweetener
|· Fruit juice concentrates
||· Palm sugar
||Rice bran syrup
||· Ethyl maltol
|· Maple syrup
|· Golden syrup/sugar
||· Fruit juice concentrate
|· Caster sugar
||· Buttered sugar
||· Crystalline fructose
|· Muscovado sugar
||· Date sugar
||· Evaporated cane juice
|· Invert sugar
||· Organic raw sugar
||· Confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
|· Dextran, malt powder