Health and Wellbeing - Sugar
Brought to you by 'A Healthy CIT', a multi campus iniatitive.
THE NUMBERS YOU NEED TO KNOW
Added sugar is getting a lot of press recently, due to the huge quantities that we are consuming. Did you know that Ireland is on course to become one of the fattest nations in Europe by 2020? Excess calories and reduced physical activity have played a part in this. Here are some facts to help you to reduce your intake of added sugar.
Sugar itself is found naturally in a lot of foods, and is not harmful in this form due to the added nutrients and fibre that these foods often provide. However, it is the sheer quantity of added sugar particularly in sugary drinks, confectionary and processed foods that causes a problem.
Ideally, the World Health Organisation Recommends that you take in no more than 25g (approx. 6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day. That is a lot right............. but we are not talking about spoons of sugar in your tea or on your cereal. Did you know that sugar is added by manufacturers to a lot of processed foods? Even certain types of savoury foods such as tomato ketchup, salad dressing, spaghetti hoops or stir fry sauces can contain large amounts of sugar. So you could be consuming a lot more added sugar than you realise.
So why do we care about sugar?
Well once we ingest sugar, it gets broken down into glucose, its most basic form. It will then be used for energy and the excess will be stored as glycogen in the muscles and the liver. But, if there is still an excess of sugar, then the body has no choice but to convert it to fat for energy storage. As well as this, excess sugar intake over time has been associated with tooth decay, weight gain, obesity, high cholesterol, insulin resistance (potentially leading to diabetes) and fatty liver disease.
A certain amount of sugar per day is unavoidable and, as always, it is all about having a balanced diet. Remember natural sugars such as those found in fruits are ok, it is the added sugars that are the problem.
As a general rule, try to stick to fresh, unprocessed food as much as possible (meat, vegetables, fruit, grains). Avoid adding sugar to hot drinks or to breakfast cereals. A banana or some berries can be a cheaper and more nutritious alternative to that mid-morning cookie with your coffee. A simple switch from a sugary breakfast cereal to porridge with berries can make a huge difference to your daily sugar intake over time. In addition, be aware of ‘healthy’ products such as certain types of yoghurts with added sugar or even cereal bars-check the label to see.
Drinks can be a hidden source of sugar and water is best! As well as soft drinks, fruit squash or juice drinks can contain huge quantities of sugar. Look for pure fruit juices without added sugar and dilute them with water if possible. Sparkling water with a dash of fruit juice or squash with no added sugar could be an alternative to a soft drink to help you kick the soft drink habit for good!
Preparing your own meals is always a better option as you can control the ingredients that go into them. However, we understand that sometimes processed foods such as breakfast cereals or tinned sauces etc. are handy, especially for busy students.
The key to avoid taking in too much sugar is knowing how to read your food labels.
As a guide: 1 teaspoon of sugar = 4g. So if something contains 16g of sugar, then you can estimate that this is 4 teaspoons- almost your entire day’s allowance!
Ingredients are usually listed in descending order by weight. So the higher up something is on the ingredient list, the more there is of it.
Manufacturers use many different names for sugar. Did you know that there are 61 names for sugar in total! The most common names are: sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, barley malt, dextrose, cane sugar, rice syrup…..as well as sugar itself.
The food label usually states how much there is per 100g (or 100ml of fluid). It may also state how much there is per serving or portion.
As a general guide, foods are high in sugar if there is more than 25g in 100g.
Watch out: food labels may be not display the content for the entire portion, for example a 500ml bottle of sugary drink but label only displays the content of 100mls, so you need to multiply by 5.
Look at the front of the packet as many foods have a traffic light system to reflect sugar, fat, calories etc. (Red=high, amber=moderate, green=low). If the sugar section is red, then you can be confident that food is going to be high in sugar.
In future, we encourage you to examine your food labels- a few small changes could have huge benefits for your lifelong health.
Useful website: www.sugarscience.org