Talking sugar on BBC Midlands Today with nick owen

BBC Midlands today

It was the last day of the school holidays, I was taking down the Christmas decorations and planning to take the kiddies out in the afternoon. Sarah called from work and said the hospital communications department were looking for a volunteer to speak that evening on Midlands today about sugar. I said yes! Our plans changed and the girls ended up watching tele in the afternoon while I did some prep (bad mummy!).

What was it about?

In the new year Public Health England announced that children in the UK were exceeding there recommended daily intake of sugar by about 8 more sugar lumps. The BBC had run a news story about a 12 year old boy that did a sugar experiment with his family. The local boy measured out how much sugar each member of his family should have per day. Then every time they went to eat something they checked the sugar content and took that amount of sugar out of their bowl. When the bowl was empty they were not allowed anymore sugar for the day! It made them really think about where the sugar was coming from in their diets and changed their eating habits.

expert on nutrition

I was there as an expert to discuss sugar and how much is in our food (in a 2 min segment)! The researchers had been to the local supermarket and picked up some food props for Nick and I to discuss in the segment. I had 15 minuets before hand to look at the labels and memories the sugar content! I was allowed to take one A4 sheet with notes into the studio, but was told only to glance at it if necessary! 

Prepping with my props before the show

how much sugar is too much?

We don’t need to have a sugar free diet, but the Government recommend (for healthy eating) that we don’t eat more than 5% of our energy intake from sugar. For adults this equates to around 30g per day. To make it more visual, this is equal to about 7 sugar cubes. I discussed each of the foods in relation to sugar cubes to make it more practical. Below are the foods the researchers had picked out for us to look at. I have discussed them in more detail for you below. At the bottom is a mini clip of me in action!

Do we all need to cut down on sugar?

There are certain times or situations when people do need to have more sugar than this.  For example if some one with diabetes treated with insulin is having a low blood sugar episode then they need to treat it with sugar to bring their levels back up. If you have been unwell and struggling to eat enough, then sugary foods can help meet your energy requirements. If you are unsure of your personal dietary requirements then contact a dietitian for advice. The below advice relates to healthy eating for the general population.  

Do you know how much of your sugar allowence (for adults) is in these food items?

%

1 chocolate covered biscuit

1 chocolate coated biscuit is about 1 sugar cube which is equal to 1/7th of your daily sugar allowance. If you can’t stop at one, the amount of sugar in your diet will build up so be wary. Try choosing a piece of fruit before considering the biscuit. 

%

250ml can of cola

A 250ml can of cola is all of your sugar allowence for the day. So a standard 330mls would exceed this! Go for sugar free pops or better still try and cut down and choose water or no added sugar drinks. 

%

250ml smoothie

This 250mls smoothie contains almost as much sugar as the cola! Although the smoothie did not contain added sugars, it did contain a lot of fruit sugars. The sugar in whole fruit is fine to have, but when liquidised down into a smoothie or juice the sugar is released. If there is a lot of fruit in the smoothie then the sugar content can be high. So a 150ml serving is recommended as the limit per day as they do contain vitamins.

%

Dried fruit and nut bar

These bars only contain dried fruit and nuts, no other ingredients. But a lot of dried fruit is squashed into one bar so it does make them high in natural sugars. They do contain fibre, vitamins and minerals which is great, but be mindful if you eat 2 of these bars in a day it would max out your whole sugar allowance! Mix these bars up with lower sugar snacks, whole fruit and unsalted nuts. 

%

Children's fromage frais big pot

Now this is a little confusing. About half the sugar content in this fromage frais will be the natural sugar lactose. If we account for 5g per 100g as being lactose sugar, then the rest will be added sugars. So with that equation the added sugar content would be 13% of your adult daily allowance, so not as bad as we think. Yogurts and fromage frais are also a good source of calcium and protein. 

Types of Sugars

There are 3 types of sugars we should think about in our diet.

Milk sugars: A type of sugar called lactose is found in dairy products. We do not need to restrict these sugars.

Fruit sugars: Fructose is found naturally in fruit. We do not have a limit on these sugars when we eat them in whole fruits. This is because the natural sugar is inside the fibre of the fruit and therefore slowly digested. But if the fruit is liquidised or concentrated then these sugars are resealed and we can consume a lot in one go. For this reason it is advised that you stick to a 150ml portion of fruit juice or a smoothie with a high fruit content. This is similar for concentrated dried fruit bars, so be mindful when eating them.

Free Sugars

Free or added sugars are the type of sugars we should be restricting. Remember that sugar is not just white sugar, but also includes brown sugar, coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup etc. These types of sugars are found in food and drink such as sugary drinks, sugar added to food and drinks, biscuits, cakes, sweets, chocolate, sugar sweetened cereals etc. In the last National Diet and Nutrition Survey adults were mainly consuming their free sugars from ‘sugar (added to drinks and foods), preserves (jam, marmalade etc) and confectionery‘ (25%), ‘cereal and cereal products’ (24%) and ‘non-alcoholic beverages’ (21%).

First steps to cutting down

Thinking about where most people are getting their sugar from (see above), then these are the first foods and drinks you should look in your diet for free sugars. Are you drinking any sugary fizzy pops or drinks, do you add sugar to your tea or coffee or on your breakfast cereal? Is your breakfast cereal covered in sugar or chocolate? How many pick me up chocolate bars or sweets do you have at work? Try writing down every thing you eat for the next few days (no cheating) and then look back and highlight all the foods that are obviously high in sugar. Can you make a small change every week to cut it down a little?

Little snippets of me on the sofa with Nick!

Is sugar dangerous?

Nicks last question was ‘Is sugar dangerous?’ I hate it when people describe sugar as dangerous or toxic! Describing any food this way can lead people to worry about what they are eating. They could become obsessive and this could lead to disorder eating!

We shouldn’t label food as good or bad, but eat a variety of food, a little less sugar and a little more fruit, vegetables and fibre. 

Yes the SACN report on carbohydrates concluded that too much sugar in our diet increases the risk of becoming obese. Obesity can lead to health problems such as diabetes, heart disease or some cancers. You are not going to fall over from having a small piece of sugary foods pass your lips!

I’m not going to deny you that slice of birthday cake or your favourite chocolate once in a while but think about your diet as a whole. Where can you cut the sugar our that you don’t need and add in more fruit, veg and fibre that we do need to eat more of?