The average Briton consumes 238 teaspoons of sugar each week. What? You say. Not me. Nowhere near. But the problem is that sugar has become embedded in our food supply and we often consume it without realising. The amount of sugar in our modern diets has increasingly come under scrutiny as some of the latest research indicates that it is sugar that is driving today’s obesity rates (26% of Britons are now ‘obese’ – over 50% are overweight). It is also seen as a key factor in increasing cancers, heart disease and pancreatic and liver disorders.
The low sugar movement is led by Robert Lustig, professor of paediatric endocrinology at University of California and author of Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar. He warns that not all calories are equal, because not all monosaccharides – the simplest forms of sugar – are equal. At a basic level, sucrose, or table sugar (which is made up of equal molecules of the monosaccharides fructose and glucose) is not metabolised in the same way that a carbohydrate such as flour is. He states that when you investigate the cause of type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes, the total number of calories you consume is irrelevant, rather it is the type of calories that matter. Lustig (and others) believe it is the fructose molecule in sugar that is to blame.
So should we simply stop eating fruit? No. But the government’s message on eating 5 fruit and veg a day might need to move towards a greater emphasis on the veg. Fruit is sweetened by fructose but it doesn’t contain very much, although you still shouldn’t eat very sweet fruit like grapes and melon to excess. The real problem lies in sources of sweetness like corn syrup, agave/maple syrup and honey: these contain a higher percentage of fructose than fruit, especially if they have been processed, meaning additional fructose is added in. The food industry loves these sweeteners, especially high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), as they make every type of food more palatable. It is used in many foodstuffs - soups, bread, ketchup and ready-meals. More importantly, it is used to flavour low-fat foods (which would otherwise taste, says Lustig, “like cardboard”). This theory is causing many to turn away from low fat diets, where the fat has often been replaced by sugar.
Sugar contains calories but few nutrients, so eating too much added sugar and sugary food and drinks instead of other healthy foods can make your diet less nutritious. So, if you are concerned about your health, maybe even your weight, following a low sugar diet makes sense.
What you should consider:
Do not buy cereals with more than 3g of sugar per 100g – Coco Pops is one of the worst offenders. Porridge, Weetabix and unflavoured shredded wheat, on the other hand, are good choices. Plain buttered toast with marmite is also a good option.
Be wary of yogurts – especially the low fat ones for if they contain fruit juice extract as the sweetener they will be high in sugar.
Eggs with bacon and sausages are fine; but don’t smother them with ketchup or brown sauce.
Shop-bought pancake mixes are all high in sugar but you can make them by substituting dextrose. Top with butter or fresh strawberries.
Avoid pastries (except plain croissants) and all jams and honey.
Avoid juice and sweetened drinks of any description. Unflavoured water (be it still or sparkling) and unflavoured milk are the only soft drinks you should have.
Use dextrose in tea or coffee if you need them to be sweeter.
Drink dry (not sweet) wines, beers and spirits (if unmixed with other drinks containing sugar) if you want to drink alcohol.
Just watch the sauces – many are sweetened.
Sandwiches made from low-fructose bread and not filled with jam are fine.
Salads without sweetened dressings are OK.
A meal of meat or fish with any kind of vegetable is good.
Choose Chinese or Indian cuisine rather than Thai and Malaysian, which often use brown sugar as the primary sauce ingredient. Stay away from anything that mentions honey or sweet chilli.
Pizza is fairly low-sugar – just check the sugar content of the tomato paste though if you are making them at home.
Pasta, potatoes and rice are good.
In general, beware of ready meals – these will almost always have significantly higher sugar levels than their home-made counterparts.
When eating out, make a habit of choosing the cheese platter with coffee instead of pudding, and stick to water or dry white or red wine.
Ditch chocolate, sweets and ice cream of any description. Biscuits are only slightly less bad, though shortbreads and malted milk biscuits are among the lowest sugar biscuits. Avoid dried fruit (70 per cent sugar) and substitute nuts or non-sugar treats such as potato crisps for sugary snacks.
Though high in fructose, fruit can be eaten in small quantities (no more than two pieces per day) because they contain a large amount of innate soluble fibre, which helps the body mitigate fructose damage. They also contain water, which dilutes the sugar.
If you’d like more help and guidance on following a low sugar diet, then Gymophobics can help. From April they are running a 7 week course on Wednesdays at 6.30pm and Fridays at 11am. Members and non-members welcome
Member since: 26th September 2014
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