Sugar is the villain in the media at the moment. We haven’t just discovered this, as dietitians we have been promoting low sugar for healthy eating for a long time. The WHO (World Health organisation) first recommended that our free sugar intake should be less than 10% of our total daily energy intake in 1989. For a man following a 2500kcals diet this would be less than 62g of sugar per day (about 15 teaspoons) and a lady following a 2000kcal diet this would be less than 50g of sugar per day (about 12 teaspoons). The benefits to health are reducing the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay.
The WHO has just published a new guideline (March 2015) emphasizing that free sugars should be less than 10% of total energy in the diet, but they say a further reduction to below 5% (or roughly 25g = 6tsp) would provide additional health benefits.
WHO class free sugars as monosaccharaides (glucose, fructose), disaccharides (sucrose = table sugar) added to foods and drinks, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates.
Hang on, honey and syrup is classed as sugar…? Well not according to Davina McCall (that well known nutritionist!) with her sugar free recipes. Her sugar free chocolate brownies contain 175g of honey and 150g of maple syrup which according to the WHO recommendations equates to 228g sugar (57tsp of sugar), which is 15g of sugar (3.75tsp) per square! Don’t get me wrong, I like Davina as a TV presenter, but I don’t think we can rely on her for credible nutritional advice…
The Who guidelines does not refer to single sugars found in fresh fruits and vegetables, and sugar naturally present in milk because they report ‘there is no reported evidence of adverse effects of consuming these sugars’.
The BBC program ‘Truth about sugar’ was on the tele this week. Fiona Phillips presented the documentary and delved into where we find sugar and what it does to our bodies.
They followed 4 people who ate high sugar diets, 23-39 tsp of sugar per day. If we calculate how much this is as a percentage of their calorie intake (presuming ladies eat 2000kcals and men 2500kcals – although I would expect these people ate more that this!) then this would be between 20-25% of their calories as sugar, much more than recommended intake. They were told to cut sugar out of their diet, they managed to do this by cutting out sugary drinks and foods and cooking from scratch. They got their sugar intake down to between ¼ – 7 tsp per day. Unsurprisingly 3 out of 4 managed to lose weight and reduced their risk of developing diabetes and non alcohol fatty liver disease, but one man, although cutting his sugar intake down from 29 – 7 tsp per day didn’t manage to lose any weight. It turned out that although he had decreased his sugar intake, he had compensated his calories and drank more alcohol! As this case proves, we can’t single out one nutrient to help reduce weight and improve health. The whole diet needs to be looked at – this includes sugar, fat and alcohol combined!
Below are examples of high sugar offenders
Cola Can (330mls): 35g (9tsp) sugar
Sprite Can (330mls): 22g (5.5tsp) sugar
Lucazade energy (380ml bottle): 47.5g (12 tsp) sugar
Red bull (250ml can): 27.5g (7tsp) sugar
Chocolate muffin: 23.5g (6tsp) sugar
Dairy milk chocolate (36g bar): 20g (5 tsp) sugar
Have a think about how much sugar you have in your diet, would you meet the current healthy recommendations?
For more info on sugar and health and how to read labels to see if a food is high in sugar, then read the BDA food facts on sugar.
You can read more of the WHO recommendations on sugar here.