For the last couple of years, the focus has slowly moved away from reducing fat in the diet to reducing sugar. This change of priority is due to the fact that in the last 50 years the dietary intake of sugar has skyrocketed, and along with it the rate of obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, depression and skin conditions. Studies all point towards sugar being the major contributing factor.
First of all, I want to clarify what sugar (also called carbohydrate) actually is. Sugar is sugar. It does not matter if you’re eating sugar in the form of white table sugar, honey, bread, potato or fruit, all sugars are made up of repeating units of carbohydrate molecules such as glucose or fructose. Once a carbohydrate containing food enters the body the chains of carbohydrate molecules are broken apart so that the molecules can be absorbed into our cells and used as energy for the body.
>> Reducing your sugar intake
The World Health Organisation recommend consuming no more than 6 teaspoons (4 teaspoons for children) of free sugars per day. Free sugars are sugars added to foods by the cook or manufacturer, or those present in fruit juices, juice concentrates, honey and syrups.
>> Easy ways to monitor and reduce your sugar intake
Eat your fruit, don’t drink it
Fruit is incredibly rich in carbohydrates or sugars, but in nature fruit comes packaged up with fibre to slow the absorption of the sugar. However, once you juice the fruit the sugar component is removed from the fibre, meaning that it becomes a very quickly absorbed form of sugar which causes a spike in your blood glucose levels (not desirable). It is also very easy to consume a greater amount of fruit as a juice than in the whole form. For example, it takes 4-5 oranges to make one 250ml glass of orange juice, however, most people wouldn’t eat 4-5 whole oranges in one sitting. Eat your fruit instead of juicing it to retain all of the nutritional benefits and reduce your sugar intake.
Avoid sweetened beverages
Soda, processed juices, flavoured milk drinks, and takeaway iced coffees and frappuccinos are loaded with sugar and offer almost no nutritional benefit, you are simply filling your body with sugars and other substances that take away from your health. Switch to water, plain milk, nut milk, or vegetable juices.
If you are going to consume packaged or processed foods then get smart about how much sugar they contain. Often foods that you don’t expect to contain sugar, like tinned vegetables, savoury snacks or sauces, are loaded with sugar! So be careful and compare the sugar content of products, and choose the one with the least amount of sugar – or better still, no added sugar.
Increase your fat intake
Whole food fats like avocado, nuts, seeds and coconut are incredibly satisfying for the body. Most people find that these high-fat foods reduce sugar cravings because the body is sufficiently satisfied for a longer period of time than compared with only consuming carbohydrates. Try to include some whole food fat at each meal and see if this improves your cravings for sugar.
Reduce your caffeine intake
Reducing your caffeine intake also reduces the amount of cortisol (stress hormone) that is produced. This is important because cortisol encourages the body to burn carbohydrates which in turn makes the body crave more in order to keep the supplies topped up. Simply cutting your caffeine intake in half can help reduce the 3 p.m. sugar cravings and your consequent sugar intake.
Words: Jessica Giljam-Brown (BSc Human Nutrition), from Wellness By Jessica