Sugar in our diet: How does it affect our health?

A common question when it comes to diets is based around sugar, and whether too much sugar is actually bad for us. In this article, we cover the types of sugars, how much sugar is healthy and tips on how to cut down on sugar in your diet.

Common Types of Sugars

In an honest approach, eating too much sugar can make you gain weight quickly, and can also cause tooth decay. The most common types of sugars that most adults and children consume across the UK and known as free sugars, which are:

- Any sugars that have been added to food or drinks. This includes sugars that are normally found in biscuits, fizzy drinks, chocolate, cereal and flavoured yoghurts. Generally speaking, these sugars are added by a food manufacturer, but can also be added by a chef or even at home.

- Sugars in syrups, honey, unsweetened fruit juices, vegetable juices and smoothies. These are normally sugars that occur naturally, but they are still classed as free sugars.

Although sugar can be found naturally in milk, fruit and vegetables, these aren’t classed as free sugars. This means that we don’t need to cut down on these particular sugars, however they are still added to the total sugar count, and still need to be monitored.

How much sugar can we actually eat?

As part of the governments approach to improving the healthy eating of Britain, it is recommended that free sugars (the sugars that are added to food, drink, juices) shouldn’t make up more than 5% of the calories we get from our daily food/drink.

Taking this into account, it means that:

- Adults should not exceed 30g of free sugars per day.

- From age 7–10, children shouldn’t exceed 24g of free sugars per day.

- From age 4–6, children shouldn’t exceed more than 19g of free sugars per day.

- Under the age of 4, there is no set guideline limit in place, however it is recommended that sugar-sweetened drinks and food are avoided.

Generally speaking, free sugars are the sugars that are found in fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes, biscuits, fruit juices and smoothies. It is these products that we should cutting down on, reducing that amount of free sugar in our diets. For example, a standard can of Coca-Cola can contain up to 9 cubes of sugar — more than the recommended daily limit for adults.

Tips on cutting down on sugar

For the best balanced and healthy diet, the first thing to do is to reduce the amount of free sugar you have in your diet. Here’s a few tips on how:

Reducing Sugar in Your Drinks:

- Reduce the amount of fizzy drinks, or sugary squash, and replace them with water, diet/no-added-sugar drinks and lower-fat milk. While the sugar levels are the same in lower-fat milk as they are in whole milk, the saturated fat intake is reduced.

- Limit the amount of unsweetened juices you have to nothing over 150ml daily; even these drinks are sugary, despite the fact they are ‘fruit.’

- If you are a fan of fizzy drinks, and don’t want to cut them out completely, try mixing no-added-sugar squash with sparkling water; this is still a fizzy drink, but with no free sugar.

- If you have sugar in your hot drinks/cereal, slowly reduce the amount of sugar you have per week. This way, your body won’t recognise the difference, and you can slowly cut it out altogether. If not, try switching to a sweetener.

Reducing Sugar in Your Food:

- Check nutrition labels to help you pick out your desired foods, but with less added sugar.

- Instead of using high-sugar spreads, try lower-fat/reduced-sugar versions instead.

- If you’re cooking/baking, try reducing the amount of sugar you actually use in your recipes.

- Rather than using syrup, try using fruit in juice instead.

- In terms of cereal, choose unsweetened wholegrain breakfast cereals that aren’t frosted, or coated in anything either.

If you’re a smartphone/iPhone user, Change4Life have an app called Be Food Smart, which will allow you to monitor how much sugar you, or your children are having daily, by scanning the barcode on food packets. Keeping to this app is an easy way to ensure that you are sticking to the guidelines in place, pushing you towards a healthy diet.

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