Is your sugar fix breaking your diet?

Sophie Edgington - Nutritionist | 14 Mar, 2021

For many of us it is the 'moreish' nature of sweet foods that make it hard to stop. And if we eat a lot of high sugar foods, it can lead to an energy boost and crash cycle which makes us crave more.

But are all sugars bad? The short answer is no. However – you need to be sugar savvy and understand which types you need to be cutting out and which types are okay.

Life without sugar in your diet would be tough, if not impossible to follow as most foods contain a small amount of carbohydrates, even chicken breast! The good news is that you can have a healthier relationship with sugar where you feel more in control, if you change the types of food you are eating.

Is all sugar 'bad'?

There are two types of sugars – 'naturally occurring' and 'added' (also known as 'free').

Naturally occurring – are sugars naturally present in foods such as fruit and milk. These are not the sugars we need to worry about because we get other valuable nutrients from the foods they are present in.

Added – have been added to the food by the manufacturer or cook. These are the sugars we need to look out for and reduce.

Foods high in added sugars also tend to be low in other important nutrients, so eating these foods regularly means we are using our calories on less nutritious foods. This is one of the main reasons why we should aim to limit our sugar intake, as in doing so, we would have a much more nutritionally balanced and energy controlled diet, with less chance of weight gain and nutritional deficiencies.

Sugar

What does it do to our body?

We need glucose to fuel our brain – it is the only nutrient small enough for the brain to work properly. Our body can get glucose from breaking down complex carbohydrates such as starches, as well as from sugary foods and drinks.

In terms of how our body uses the sugar once it is absorbed, there is no difference between added sugar and that which is naturally present in foods.

However, the sugars found in fruits are contained within the cells of the fruit and are often consumed with other nutrients such as fibre. This means they are absorbed slower into the bloodstream and have a less significant effect on our blood sugar levels, unlike added sugars which can cause a sharp rise in blood sugar levels, often followed by a dip in sugar and energy soon after.

How much should I have?

There is no official figure, but UK labelling uses a guideline target that no more than 18% of your total calories should come from all sugars (naturally occurring and added). For someone following a 1,400 calorie diet, this works out at 63g a day.

The guideline for added sugars is just 5% of our calorie intake. For someone following a 1,400 calorie diet, this works out at just 17.5g.

How to track it

You can monitor your sugar intake in the app by tapping the nutrient header in your diary (where the black arrow is showing) and select 'SUGg' from the list.

To get an overview for the day, tap the white chart icon top right corner of your diary to see a bar chart showing your nutrient intake vs healthy guidelines. The sugar bar splits out fruit & veg sugars (dark green), to give you an idea of how much of your sugar comes from natural vs added sources.

On the website, click 'Settings' above your diary > 'Choose which nutrients to track in my food diary'. The bar chart will also be showing on the right hand side of your diary.

If you want to focus on reducing your sugar intake, we also have a Less Sugar Goal you can set. In the app, tap the white chart icon top right of your diary > scroll down and select 'Less Sugar Goal'. On the website, click 'Settings' above your diary > 'Set your nutrient targets' > 'Less Sugar Goal'.

Which foods should I limit?

The foods we should be limiting are those with only added sugars – sugar-sweetened drinks, sweets, chocolate, cake and biscuits.

There is no need to be concerned about foods containing naturally occurring sugars – in foods such as milk, plain natural yogurt, fruit and vegetables.

A mix of natural and added sugars tend to be in fruit flavoured yogurts, flavoured milk, cereals containing dried fruit, fruit juices and yogurt/chocolate coated fruit. So these should be eaten in moderation.

Top tips!

Rather than cutting out sugar completely, what's important is the source of sugar in your diet. Here are some of our top tips...

  1. Switch to sweetener in tea & coffee (or leave out the sugar altogether if you can)
  2. Opt for no added sugar soft drinks.
  3. Choose lower sugar cereals such as Weetabix, Shredded Wheat and porridge – add fresh fruit for sweetness.
  4. Choose unflavoured yogurts and add fresh fruit for taste.
  5. Check the label on readymade meals, sauces and soups for unexpected sugars.

Sugar is okay in moderation – as is everything! While you wouldn't be missing much nutritionally if you never ate sweets, chocolate, cakes, biscuits, sugary drinks again – you'd possibly be less content. Life is about balance and it's really not necessary to remove the sweet food entirely from our diets. But being more mindful of how much added sugar you're consuming will definitely benefit your health.

Nutritionist Sophie Edgington (ANutr), BSc Nutrition is passionate about practising evidence-based nutrition and debunking the multitude of inaccurate myths that so readily surround food and health information. Her goal is to ensure we are all able to make informed and responsible decisions regarding our health.