We cut through the conflicting information to tell you the truth about the sweet stuff.
Human bodies need sugar to survive, but sugar is also considered the bad guy by many nutritionists. To help navigate your way to a healthy lifestyle around sugar, here are some of the fundamental facts about sugar.
1. A can of soft drink contains your maximum daily sugar intake
Natural sugars are present in many fruit, vegetables and dairy foods – even those that are not obviously sweet. Or natural sugars can be added to food, and it's that added sugar that we need to limit to less than 10 per cent of total energy intake, according to the World Health Organization.
A University of Sydney study shows that Australians are eating, on average, 22kg of added sugar per person every year or 60 grams of sugar per person per day (that’s around 14 teaspoons of white sugar). The recommended daily intake is six teaspoons.
“The majority of Australians are consuming above the World Health Organization’s recommended 10kg of added sugar per person every year,” says Dr Kieron Rooney from the University of Sydney.
“Take, for example, a sugar sweetened drink. If you consume just one can, you’re consuming your maximum recommended limit of added sugar for the day.”
A large fruit juice can also contain up to 60g of sugar per 500ml.
2. Sugar can hide in the least likely places
You may think that by avoiding sweets, ice cream, lollies, cakes, soft drinks and the like that you are keeping your sugar intake in check. Unfortunately, there are plenty of foods that might not be considered sweet, but that are hiding unnaturally high sugar content. There can be high sugar content in bread, crackers, tomato sauce, tonic water and fat-free salad dressings, just to name a few. For all processed and packaged foods, the Nutritional Information table (usually on the rear label) will list the major nutrients (fats, protein and carbohydrate). Sugar content (both per recommended serve and per 100g (which indicates the percentage of sugars in the product) is listed immediately below Carbohydrates content because sugars are a subset of carbohydrates.
3. Not all sugar studies can be trusted
Soft drink companies and the sugar industry as a whole use similar tactics to those once employed by the tobacco industry, sponsoring favourable studies into the health effects of sugars. If you have read studies claiming that sugar isn’t actually harmful or downplaying the level of harm, chances are that that study was funded by the sugar industry. Professor Lisa Bero from the University of Sydney says “research studies funded by sugar-sweetened beverage companies are more likely to conclude that sugar is not harmful than studies with other sponsors, and research studies funded by artificial sweetener companies are less likely to find that consumption of artificial sweeteners is associated with weight gain than studies with other sponsors”.
4. Sugar is addictive
The reason sugar tastes so good to us is explained through evolutionary biology. In nature, sweet foods like fruits are often full of the vitamins, minerals and energy that helped humans survive. The receptors on our tongues tell us that these foods are delicious, so that we keep eating them. Evolution has conditioned your body to reward the discovery of sugar, but you now have to consciously avoid manipulation by food and drink companies into consuming excessive amounts of sugar.
5. You don’t need added sugar
Dr Rooney says we can meet all of our energy needs to not only sustain life but to thrive without foods and drinks containing added sugars. “Cutting the foods that contain added sugars out of our diet will not deprive you of any essential nutrients you can’t get anywhere else in the diet,” said Dr Rooney.
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