I feel bad for sugar most days. Just saying sugar to most people sends them running in the opposite direction,but is it that bad to have sugar in our diet? Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that breaks down in the body to become glucose. The body uses glucose for energy. We need energy to do our daily activities. So what is the big deal with sugar?
Truthfully, sugar is found in almost everything we eat. I’m sure many of us don’t wake up planning to eat as much sugar as we possibly can, we just can’t help it, sugar is just sooooo goooooood our bodies need sugar to function.
It is the abundance of sugar in our foods (especially unexpected places) and the negative health effects such as tooth decay, type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart diseases associated with eating excess sugar that make sugar a big deal. These conditions are linked to having excess sugar in the diet, and watching our ‘free’ sugar intake can considerably lower the risk for these conditions.
Sugar comes in two forms:
- Naturally occurring sugar like what you find in natural fruits and vegetables, and milk.
- Added or ‘free’ sugars which are sugars that are removed from their original sources and added to foods for different purposes like sweetening, browning and preservation.
So where does all the ‘free’ sugar come from? Free sugar is found in many foods like cereals, fruit/vegetable beverages, desserts, baked goods (including home-made), syrup, and honey. Sometimes we don’t even know that it is there, which is very annoying if you think about it. For example did you know that there is sugar in some seasoning cubes like Maggi ? I can barely remember many meals we cooked while growing up that didn’t include seasoning cubes, many of them were not eaten because we wanted sweetness, I am sure of that. Do I still use seasoning cubes? Yes, but rarely, mostly because I have grown to dislike the taste, I just happened to find out about sugar later so mmehh. It is those unexpected additions that tend to get many of us!
So what can we do? Ideally we should eat wholesome, non-processed foods but in today’s world that may be far-fetched for many of us because of barriers like time, cost of food and lack of food preparation skills. However, there are ways we can try to limit the amount of excess sugars we consume. My top four are:
- Swapping sugar in baked goods with natural sources like applesauce, fresh or dried fruits. Apart from adding sweetness, they provide added minerals, fiber and vitamins. If you are not sure where to start, gradually try to reduce the amount of sugar in a recipe you are comfortable with. If this doesn’t affect your end product, you can probably do with less sugar in that recipe. I love using cinnamon and vanilla to bake even when a recipe doesn’t ask for it because nothing says sweet to me more than the smell of vanilla and cinnamon. I believe smell influences our eating habits, so this is a good way to give myself the sweet sensation without increasing sugar. If you doubt me, ask sensory experts (yes people actually test for that but that’s a whole other topic, lol).
- Limiting soft drinks. Did you know that drinking a can of soft drink a day can lead to a weight gain of about 15pounds in a year? If you absolutely love your pop, try drinking periodically, don’t buy a pack and keep at home because you will drink it. Find alternate sources of caffeine like tea or coffee, or fizz like water with fruits :-).
Reducing your daily intake of free sugars to less than 5% or about 25 grams or 6 teaspoons per day provides health benefits. World Health Organization
- Drink more water instead of juice or do half-and-half juice and water to slowly decrease juice intake. Water can be flavored with berries, cucumber slices, lemons or limes. Water is calorie free too!
- Read the ingredient lists on food products. Ingredients are usually listed by weight so if sugar is listed among the first few ingredients, that product is likely high in sugar. Compare products and choose foods will less sugar. Learn to recognize other names for sugar in food products – brown sugar, cane sugar/juice, sucrose, maple syrup, maltose, concentrated fruit juice, barley malt, honey, invert sugar, high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, dextrose, dextrin, and molasses are all sugar. Ingredients ending in “ose” and ‘ol’ are likely sugars too. I will post more on other names of sugar later.
Finding a good balance between sugar intake and health is not easy for most of us. I recently marked three months drinking tea with only a teaspoon of honey which I am very proud of considering I used to need 2 – 3 tablespoons. All you need to do is try, you may not get it every time but the aim is to develop the habit.Try to eat more foods in their natural state like vegetables and fruits, limit foods and drinks that have added sugar, and reduce the amount of sugar in teas and coffee. Be informed and do the best you possibly can to take care of your body, after all it’s the only one you’ve got. Thanks for stopping by and feel free to share your tips and comments, share this post too :-).