Natural sugar is generally good for us when consumed liberally; the real culprit is the sugar added to our fizzy drinks, cakes, biscuits, chocolate and pastries etc. But if sugar really is so very bad for us, why is it easy to consume so much and what can we do about it?
Statistics report that we eat more than three chocolate bars a week – that’s 150 bars a year – which adds up to approximately 11 lbs in weight! In order to change those figures, the British Heart Foundation have launched their DECHOX campaign which runs for the whole month of March during which time all chocolate is off limits.
But chocolate is just the tip of the sugar iceberg…
Recommended Daily Allowance
In nature, sugar comes in the form of fruit and vegetables, usually accompanied by fibre, vitamins, minerals and water, a combination of which is not harmful and provides us with a healthy source of energy. Ideally we shouldn’t be eating any more than 30g of sugar per day, that’s about 7 sugar cubes which is quite manageable when you can see the amount of sugar you’re using. But what about those hidden or ‘free’ sugars – any and all sugars added to foods and drinks in any form, whether by yourself in homemade dishes or by food manufacturers?
Sugar Has Other Names
Did you know that as much as 74% of processed foods (pasta, sauces, ready meals) contain added sugar, masquerading as the more recognisable: syrup, treacle, fruit juice concentrate, molasses, palm sugar, sweet sorghum; whilst others, such as sacchrose, dextrose, dextrin, corn sweetener, refiners syrup, glucose, panocha, dehydrated cane juice, hydrolysed starch are not so recognisable. Sadly, the list of charlatans goes on. And on.
Food manufacturers use this to their advantage of course. By adding lots of different types of sugar to their products, they can hide actual amounts. Furthermore, by listing healthier ingredients at the top of the contents and mentioning sugar further down, a product that may be loaded with sugar, doesn’t necessarily appear as one.
Despite regulations to ensure that any nutritional claims (what a product does or doesn’t contain, or contains in a higher or lower amount) are as a result of scientific evidence and have been approved via a strict authorisation process, a clever use of marketing terms associated with improved health, can mislead consumers into thinking that unhealthy, processed food is good for them…
- ‘Sugar free’ to be true, the product must contain less than 0.5g sugars per 100g
- ‘No added sugar’ some products are naturally high in sugar, so just because they don’t have added sugar doesn’t mean they’re healthy, in fact unhealthy sugar substitutes may also have been added to the product
Whilst we are all aware of the link between excess sugar and the increased risk of dental decay and even recent research which suggests that having more sugar in your diet tends to mean you will consume more calories overall, it’s the damaging and, in some cases life threatening, health effects caused by an over-consumption of sugar that we should be more concerned with.
These higher amounts and the increased frequency of sugar consumption, cause a fatty buildup that can lead to liver disease. Historically, fatty liver disease was a result of too much boozing but more recently our children are being diagnosed with NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) a result of excess added sugar consumption, not alcohol. Overloading our livers leads to other health issues such as heart problems, diabetes and obesity, which not only affects our quality of life but also costs the NHS billions every year.
Understanding nutritional labelling, recommended daily allowances and the damaging, long term effects the over consumption of sugar can cause, are some of the ways we can make confident and informed choices about the food we purchase enabling us to protect not just our own health but those of our families too.