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Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’d probably be aware that sugar is currently at the fore of the national and international health debate.  Coming from the age of “low fat everything”, our country’s disastrous state of poor health and high obesity rates has prompted us to look at what’s gone wrong over the last couple of decades.

The critical juncture in health history was when fat was vilified as a major cause of heart disease and therefore removed from pretty much all processed foods we consume.  The thing is, when you take the fat out, the flavour also diminishes, so what did the seemingly clever food manufacturers do?  They replaced the fat with sugar.

Fast forward to today and it’s easy to see they were wrong.  It’s frightening to think that this is the first time in history that our children may actually die before us due to ill heath from obesity related causes.

The World Health Organisation recommends 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of sugar per day for adults and 4 teaspoons (16 grams) for younger children. What’s concerning is the average Australian consumes around 14 teaspoons (60 grams) a day.

Now we're talking about ‘free sugars’ here.  These are the sugars added to foods by the manufacturer or cook, as well as sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices.

‘Intrinsic sugars’ are found in whole fresh fruits and vegetables. There’s no reported evidence linking the consumption of intrinsic sugars to adverse health effects, so the recommendations for daily sugar intake don’t apply to these.  Natural sugars consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet are fine. The major issue in our diets are the extra sugars we get through processed foods and sugary drinks.

While 60g of sugar a day may sound like an obscene amount, it really isn't that difficult to consume that much on a regular basis. Sugar is hidden in pretty much everything

Worryingly, people try to do the right thing and eat healthier, only to be blindsided by ‘health brands’ filling their products with sugar.  A trip to the local supermarket will confirm this.  Here are some notable brands that deserve a mention:

  • Healthy Choice Honey Sesame Chicken: 3.5 tsp of sugar per serve
  • Masterfoods Barbecue Sauce: 2 tsp of sugar per tablespoon
  • Woolworths Sweet Chilli Sauce: 3.5 tsp of sugar in every 1.5 tablespoons
  • Masterfoods Teriyaki Marinade3 tsp of sugar in every 1.5 tablespoons
  • Praise 99% Fat Free Mayo1 tsp of sugar in every tablespoon
  • Aloe Vera Drink: 12 tsp of sugar in 500ml bottle
  • Macro Organic Pasta Sauce: 2 tsp of sugar in every ½ cup
  • Real Iced Tea Co, Peach Flavour: 8.5 tsp of sugar in 500ml bottle
  • Gatorade & Powerade: 9 tsp of sugar in 600ml bottle
  • Yoplait Yoghurt: 5.5 tsp of sugar per ¾ cup serve
  • Daily Juice Apple Juice ‘No Added Sugar’: 5 tsp of sugar per 200ml serve
  • Kellogg’s All Bran (5 Star Health Rating): 4 tsp of sugar per cup
  • Just Right (4 Star Health Rating): 7 tsp of sugar per cup
  • Sultana Bran (4.5 Star Health Rating): 5.5 tsp of sugar per cup

When does anyone consume only a cup of cereal anyway?!  It's such a small serving size and if you consider a can of Coke has 9 tsp of sugar and Just Right has 7 tsp per cup, it’s mind boggling to think that we inadvertently consume this amount of sugar in products that are marketed as ‘healthy’.

 

 

 

 

 

Navigating the menu at a juice or smoothie bar can also be tricky, with some smoothies containing up to 91 grams of sugar per serve. That’s 22 teaspoons!! Alarmingly, even the kids size can have up to 12 teaspoons of sugar. Many people slog it out at the gym and then think they’re doing themselves a favour by having a healthy smoothie for breakfast, only to be consuming more than double the calories they just burnt during their workout.

There’s obvious side effects from the wrath of sugar – obesity and diabetes being a couple of them -  however, a notable addition is how it affects ageing. Excess processed sugar in your diet, even in small amounts, can cause dark circles, wrinkles, dehydrated skin and actually fast track the ageing process.  Eliminating sugar for even a week will show signs of improvement in your skin’s texture.

YOU'VE DECIDED TO SLAY THE SUGAR DRAGON.  NOW WHAT?

  1. Check food labels. Look at the nutritional label for sugars, which are listed in grams under total carbohydrates and then divide that number by four to convert it to teaspoons. For example, if sugars are listed as 12g, you're getting 3 teaspoons of sugar per serving. Serving size can be very deceiving, as it’s usually such a small serve, most people would have 2-3 serves as their actual meal. So you will need to multiply the number of teaspoons per serve by the amount of serves you consume. 
  1. Drinks. If you're serious about cutting down on sugar, the first place is to look at what you’re drinking. Avoid fruit-based drinks and soft drinks altogether. If you like to drink freshly squeezed juices, choose vegetable-based juices instead. If you enjoy a bit of fizz, a natural mineral water will do the trick. Omit sugar or honey in your hot drinks. If you like a sweet taste in your drinks you can try liquid Stevia.  It’s available from health food shops and also comes in different flavours such as vanilla and toffee.
  1. Sauces. Any sweet sauces or dressings can be replaced with sugar free options. Try a dressing made with a blend of Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a squeeze of lemon and a dash of Organic Apple Cider Vinegar. Swap out Hoi Sin sauce for Tamari Sauce, or Coconut Aminos. Instead of your regular BBQ or tomato sauce, go for sugar free options, which are now readily available at most supermarkets. Stay clear of the addition of Aspartame E951, as it is poison.
  1. Cut back on sweet foods. It's not easy to eliminate sugar completely. Even whole grains, fruits and vegetables turn into glucose in the body. If you try to keep sugar to 5%-10% of your total calories consumed, you are on the right track.  The less sugar you have, the more sensitive your taste buds become, to the point where having a soft drink will be way too sweet for you one day.
  1. Avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This type of sweetener, which is made by changing the sugar in cornstarch to fructose (another form of sugar), is believed to be the biggest contributing factor to the obesity epidemic. HFCS extends the shelf life of foods and is sweeter and cheaper than other sugars. It's used widely in soft drinks, fruit-flavoured drinks and packaged foods such as breads and crackers.
  1. Watch out for hidden sugar. There are a few names for sugar you may not know of and they're all just as bad as each other. Look out for barley malt, corn syrup, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, maple syrup and molasses on ingredient panels.
  1. Supplementation. Coming off sugar can be a bit like coming off drugs. The cravings can be quite intense, especially for the first few days. Liquid Oxygen and Molecular Hydrogen are both excellent at helping to combat those cravings.  
  1. Look for healthy food swaps.
  • Swap soda & fruit juice for water with sliced lemon, or natural mineral water
  • Instead of using sugar, try stevia, rice malt syrup, cinnamon, or vanilla
  • Replace fruit muesli with plain oats and fresh berries
  • Swap fruity yoghurts for Greek yoghurt
  • Try nuts instead of sweet treats
  • Fresh whole fruits are always a better option than dried fruits
  • Instead of Sweet Chilli Sauce, go for regular Chilli sauce

For those with chocolate cravings, Lindt 90% Dark Chocolate has only 1.5 tsp of sugar in the whole block!  Not encouraging you to eat that much :)

Be careful not to overdo ‘healthy treats’ that are usually full of dates.  Even though they're natural, medjool dates have 4-5 tsp of sugar per date, which really adds up.

It’s amazing what happens to your body when you quit sugar. You will probably lose some weight, have more energy, sleep better and look better. 

All in all, life’s sweeter without sugar.