Ever heard that fruit is full of sugar and you shouldn’t eat it?
Let's start by busting that myth shall we… Whole fruits contain natural sugars. These are found within the fruits cells, alongside important nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fibre. They aren’t harmful to health and for the record, they are also found in whole vegetables and milk too. There is no need to limit natural sugars. So the next time you hear someone say; avoid all fruit, you can politely correct them. 😜
There is however another type of sugar that we do need to be mindful of as high intakes have been linked with an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay(1) (scarily over 26,000 5-9yr olds were hospitalised between 2017-2018 due to tooth decay(2) 😯 These sugars are called ’free sugars’ and are those added during manufacture, whilst cooking or at the table.
Heard various rumours about honey and syrups? Ever read a recipe saying it’s “sugar-free” yet includes maple syrup or honey?
This is a major bugbear of mine, as irrespective of type, these are all still just ‘free sugars’. There is a small amount of evidence that honey provides some relief of cough symptoms(3) (never give any to a child under 1yrs old). It may also contain some antioxidants but you’d need to consume a lot to gain any benefit, which makes no sense and negates any reward! You may still prefer to use alternatives to table sugar in cooking but please be mindful of the above facts and perhaps consider reducing the quantity or use dried, fresh or frozen unsweetened fruit instead.
Let's now look at fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies and purees. These are different to whole fruits and vegetables because during their processing, the sugars get squashed out of their cells and swim freely in the final product. These therefore come under the ‘free sugar’ category, thus it’s ideally best to eat your fruit/vegetable 🍎🍇🌽🥕rather than drink them. However we must always look at the food/drink as a whole and not just as a sugar, prioritising as required. A maximum of 150ml juice/smoothie counts as one of your 5-a-day and does come with added nutrients, unlike a lot of high sugar foods/drinks on the market.
So how much is too much?
Adults should consume a maximum of 30g of free sugars per day, this is around 7 teaspoons/sugar cubes(1). Think it sounds a lot? Have a look at the below photo. Some drinks contain this amount in just one single serving. 😫 The recommendation for children is 5-6 sugar cubes (4-6 and 7-11 year olds respectively).
How can you tell what’s high in ‘free sugars’?
Whilst some products, like fizzy drinks, chocolate and sweets are fairly obviously high in ‘free sugars’ and best kept to a minimum, it can be hard to tell with other products as labels do not yet differentiate between free sugars and naturally occurring sugars. If sugar (or sucrose, glucose, honey, syrup, maltose, dextrose, treacle, molasses..) is very high on an ingredients list, it suggests it contains more free sugars. Compare labels and where possible try opting for lower sugar/reduced sugar/no added sugar/diet versions of products - they are slowly becoming more prevalent on the market.
(1) GOV.UK [online] 2015, Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) Carbohydrates and Health Report. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sacn-carbohydrates-and-health-report
(2) NHS Digital [online] 2018, Hospital Admitted Patient Care Activity 2017-18, National Statistics. Available at https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/hospital-admitted-patient-care-activity/2017-18#key-facts Accessed 21/01/19
(3) National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) [online] 2019, Cough (acute): antimicrobial prescribing NICE guidance [NG120]. Available at https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng120/chapter/summary-of-the-evidence#self-care-2
*Disclaimer: All advice is general and intended for healthy individuals. If tailored advice is required, please see a registered health professional.