Research found that we need to cut down on sugar!

©Igor Ovsyannykov

Adults in the UK devour about fifty grams of added sugars a day! That’s twice the amount recommended by the WHO.

There are two different types of sugar: naturally occurring sugar in fruits or milk products and added sugars, which are all the sugars that are added to foods and beverages by manufacturers, cooks or us. Those sugars include table sugar, honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. And it’s the latter type of sugar that we need to consume less of.

The WHO recommends a total of 25 grams of added sugar a day. This equals the amount of six tablespoons. The EU reference intake recommends 90 grams of sugar in total: 30 grams of added sugar and 60 grams of natural sugar. Eating too much sugar can result in dental cries, overweight and cardio-vascular diseases.

Where we get our sugar from

Sweet products like cake, chocolate, ice cream or jam and beverages like fruit juices, soft drinks or alcoholic drinks are the main contributors to our added sugar intake. But that’s not really a surprise as we know that these treats contain huge amounts of sugar. It’s the hidden sugar that surprises us.

Low-fat and diet products
 Fat is an important carrier of flavour. As fat is cut out of these products, they often contain extra sugar to help improve their taste.
Ready meals
Even when they are savoury and they don’t necessarily taste sweet, they contain a surprising amount of sugar as well.

The Tesco Beautifully Balanced Chicken Teriyaki Noodles, for example, contain 13.6 grams of sugar (and 1.8 grams of fat). The standard Tesco’s Finest Teriyaki Pork Yasmine Rice contains only 3 grams more (and 21.3 grams of fat). So even though the low fat option contains significantly less fat, it only seems ‘beautifully balanced’ as it still contains nearly three tablespoons of sugar!

Basics for cutting down

So, in order to avoid obesity, bad teeth or heart attacks, it is very important that we change our bad habits and eat less sugar. There are some useful tips to come!

1. Know where the sugar’s hidden!
 Check the nutrition panels. This seems to be very easy, but manufacturers are smart. So don’t let them trick you! Read the labels carefully. Sometimes, they will give you ridiculously small portion sizes. So try to figure out a realistic portion size or check the sugars per 100 gram. Less than 5g per 100g is low, more than 22.5g per 100g is high.

2. Don’t trust the traffic light labelling!
 The traffic light labelling seems to make things easier, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t make a difference between added sugars and natural sugars and it usually calculates the percentage from the 90 grams total sugar intake reference instead of the 30 grams added sugar reference. As an example, let’ take a product where we know that its sugars are 100 percent added: Coke. One can of regular Coca Cola contains 35 grams of sugar. So, one can of coke exceeds our recommended added sugar intake. However, the traffic light labelling says it’s only 39 percent of our recommended suagr intake, which is very misleading.

How to cut down on sugar

Let’s get down to business! How you can tackle the problem and actively cut down on sugar.

1. Avoid low fat and diet foods.

2. Avoid ready meals.
 When cooking your own meals, you decide how much sugar you want to add. You will be surprised, but you will realise that you probably don’t feel the urge to add any sugar at all.

3. Reduce the sugar in recipes and add herbs and spices to boost flavour. 
 This strategy also helps to cut down on salt!

4. Avoid fizzy drinks.
 Instead, stick to herbal teas or water with slices of citrus fruits or peppermint for flavouring. You can also make your own ice tea.

5. Be careful with fruit juices.
 Only have one glass of juice per day and dilute it, if possible.

6. Reduce the sugar you add to hot drinks.

7. Reduce the amount of alcohol you’re drinking.

8. Try to swap white bread, rice and pasta for wholegrain versions.
 Not only do they contain less sugar, they also keep you full for longer!

9. Avoid snacking sweets.
 You don’t need to give up sweet treats, but you should eat them consciously. Let’s say you limit yourself to a piece of cake or a biscuit in the afternoon, you have something to look forward to and you will enjoy it much more!

And perhaps the most important tip: give yourself and your body time to adjust. It might be easier to cut down on sugar slowly so that your taste buds can adjust. It might take several weeks or months to get used to your new habits, but as soon as your body got used to the new situation, it will be super easy to eat less sugar.

If you want to read more about sugar consumption in the EU, you can check out this study by Azaïs-Braesco et al. (2017).