How to cut down on the sugar in your diet
There is no sugar-coating the negative effects that a high-sugar diet has on our health. It is important we cut down the amount of sugar we consume on a daily basis. This isn’t as straight forward as you may think, however, there are several tips and tricks we can employ on our rocky road to cutting down on sugar.
How much sugar should I consume per day
At present, the UK government suggests that sugar, present in all forms of food and drink should not exceed 5% of our total daily caloric intake, rather than the astonishing 13.5% average that we’ve become accustomed to.
In general, this means we should be consuming:
Adults – No more than 30 grams of sugar per day
Children (7 to 10 years) – No more than 24 grams of sugar per day
Children (4 to 6 years) – No more than 19 grams of sugar per day
For children under the age of 4 years, sugar-added foods should be out of the question, altogether.
How to use nutrition labels to identify sugar in the foods your consume
There are many tips to cut down on sugar, but first, we need to understand how to identify the amount of sugar present in the foods that we consume. We can do so easily by assessing the ingredients and their quantities present on the packaging labels on food and drink.
Types of sugar and how much is considered too much (per 100 grams)
High sugar – 22.5 grams or more
Low sugar – 5 grams or less
Information on the amount of free sugar that is added into a foodstuff can be found on the nutrition label, located under the title “of which sugars” usually under carbohydrate information.
There are many different names of added “free” sugar found on food labels, examples being: Those ending in -ose e.g. fructose, glucose, sucrose, dextrose, amongst other examples.
Other common examples of added “free” sugar: Cane sugar, corn sugar, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, hydrolysed starch, maple syrup, molasses, amongst many other examples.
It is not necessary to memorise the many different types of sugar, what’s best to do is memorise those with similar endings e.g. -ose and keep an eye out for the amounts of sugar under the ‘added sugar’ section of nutrition labels.
How to interpret colour-coded nutrition labels
For a good visual on how healthy or unhealthy a foodstuff is, you can refer to their coloured-coded nutrition labels, usually found on the front of the packaging.
Red – HIGH
Amber – MEDIUM
Green – LOW
A point of note is that these front of pack nutrition labels are not always colour-coded. This shouldn’t be an issue however once you understand and know the amount of sugar you should be consuming per 100 grams.
Top tips on reducing the amount of sugar throughout the day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and drinks)
It is very important to stay conscious of the ways that sugar can enter your diet throughout the day and how best you can substitute such sugars.
Tips on how to reduce sugar during breakfast
Sounds rather ironic to say breakfast is the most important meal of the day when it’s a time we cram disease-causing sugar into our bodies. Let’s change that.
When you think breakfast the first thing that comes to mind is cereal and if not that, then toast. As with most things, there’s good and bad, this aptly applies to breakfast cereals. Utilise the above information on the recommended sugar per 100 grams or better yet try switching to reduced-sugar/ sugar-free breakfast cereals.
Examples of sugar-free breakfast cereals:
- Plain porridge
- Rice puff cereal
- Plain wholewheat cereal e.g. Weetabix and shredded wheat
If you find the switch from sugar-added cereals to reduced-sugar/ sugar-free difficult, these simple tips may help.
Tip 1: To start, if you find non/ reduced sugar-added cereals unpalatable you can alternate between these and sugar-added cereal on a day to day basis. You should continue this until you feel that your taste buds have adjusted to accept the reduced-sugar/ sugar-free alternatives.
Tip 2: Try adding some chopped or frozen fruit into your sugar-free cereal. This way, you will satisfy your sweet-tooth and conveniently find a way of getting in some of your 5 A Day.
If you’re more of a toast person, instead of white bread you should opt for wholemeal or granary bread. In terms of spreads like jams or Nutella, you should ideally opt for a spread that is sugar-free or at the very least reduced-sugar.
Tips to reduce sugar during lunch and dinner time
When making your own meals make sure to keep the amounts of sugar that you are adding to a minimum. However, this isn’t always as easy as it seems. This is because a lot of sauces that we utilise for convenience sake contain a lot of sugar e.g. an average-sized jar of pasta sauce has 150 grams of added sugar. This can be avoided by using your own tomatoes to make your own pasta sauce. P.S. you don’t need much thyme for a good sauce.
Another foodstuff that we somewhat rely on is condiments e.g. ketchup, which can have 23 grams of sugar per 100 grams which can add up quickly over time. The good news is that most condiments have reduced-sugar alternatives.
In cases when you want a cheeky takeaway, make sure to be wary of dishes that are high in added sugar e.g. Indian/ Thai curries and any dish with the word ‘sweet’ in the title e.g. sweet and sour chicken. You can always request for reduced sugar when ordering or in cases of a salad dressing or a sauce to have it on the side.
Tips on how to reduce sugar in your snacks
Before you’ve even booted up Netflix your craving for snacks start. It’s not necessary to change your habits altogether, but it is important that you opt for healthier alternatives that have no added sugar e.g. fresh or frozen fruit, unsalted nuts, rice cakes, oatcakes, amongst many other examples.
If you find it hard to give up your favourite snacks, nowadays there are always healthier versions of your favourite sugary snacks, with much less sugar or even no added sugar, be they biscuits, cakes or even gummies.
Tips on how to reduce sugar in your drinks
It’s really easy to consume a lot of your daily recommended sugar from sugary drinks e.g. squash, fruit juice and pop. It is estimated that approximately a quarter of the sugar in our diets comes from drink, this includes granulated caster sugar that is added into our tea and coffee.
A simple way to eliminate the sugar from your drinks is to opt for sugar-free ‘diet’ alternative with sugar substitutes. In cases of your hot drinks, you can gradually reduce the amount of sugar you add, to a point that you don’t feel the need to add any at all. If you find the absence of sugar a challenge you can swap the sugar for a sweeter e.g. Splenda. There is also some evidence that tea e.g. green tea, amongst many other varieties, can help curb your sugar cravings and in some instances even aid in weight loss by making the body’s metabolism more efficient.
As with most things in life you need to exercise them in moderation, yes, such a philosophical statement even applies to drinking fruit juices and smoothies. These are high in minerals and nutrients but also high in free sugar that can have adverse effects on your health. It is recommended that you only drink 150ml of either fruit juice or smoothie per day. Another point of note is that regardless of the amount of fruit juice or smoothie you consume, they only count towards one of you 5 A day.
So to conclude there are a lot of tips and tricks that you can incorporate and changes that you can make that will help you on your journey to cutting down on sugar and ultimately leading a healthier life. This can be a shock to the system, so take things slowly and adjust your diet to a point that leaves you feeling happy about the foods you eat, as it is hard to stick to a plan that you become fed-up on, mind the pun.