11th-18th November is National Sugar Awareness Week. Industry, government and NGO’s come together to celebrate successes in reducing our sugar consumption – and decide where to head next. Front and centre is the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan – taking action to cut obesity among young people. Scarily, one in three kids in the UK are overweight or obese. It’s complicated stuff, but there’s little doubt that sugar is among the culprits.
How much are we consuming?
Too much. Although getting exact figures is tricky, on average, children and teenagers are consuming nearly three times as much added sugar as they should – pushing 15 per cent of their daily calories, or a massive 20 sugar cubes a day. Adults consume less – around 11 per cent – but still more than double the recommended amount.
Where do we get it from?
Sugar occurs naturally in some foods – fruit and milk for example. But most of the sugar in our diets is added. As much as 10 per cent of sugar in children’s diets comes from fizzy drinks. A typical half litre energy drink contains a whopping 13 cubes of sugar – a can of cola comes in at nine. The rest of that added sugar is in snacks, ready meals, cereals and booze. Put simply, too much of the food and drink we buy off the shelf is stuffed with added sugar. And we don’t need it.
Eating added, or what is sometimes called ‘free’, sugar gives your brain an immediate rush of feel-good dopamine. Because whole foods like fruit and veg release their sugars more slowly, they don’t give you the same ‘hit’. Which is why eating sugary snacks and drinks can leave you craving more. It can also lead to mood shifts – that sweet sugary high followed by a grim sugar crash.
Bad for your mind and your body
And then there’s the more physical stuff. Eating sugary foods increases your risk of tooth decay – all those bad bacteria just love a sugar bath to swim in. Excess sugar intake is strongly associated with weight gain and, ultimately, obesity. It can worsen joint pain, affect your skin, tilt you towards diabetes and play havoc with your gut and cardio-vascular system. Those who get 25 per cent or more of their calories from sugar are twice as likely to die from a heart attack as those who get less than 10 per cent.
How can I cut down?
Get savvy. If you’re buying prepared or packaged food, check the contents. Avoid as much added sugar as you can. And remember, sugar comes in many guises: corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, golden syrup, molasses – there’s a ton of names those wily manufacturers use for the stuff. If in doubt, head to the web. And here’s three more top tips, borrowed from the folk over at Action on Sugar.
- If you’re eating cereals or yoghurts, go plain and sweeten up on added fruit
- If you’re cooking, add half the recommended sugar – bet you won’t notice the difference
- If you’re a snacker, swap the chocolate for a handful of dried fruit – it’ll still hit the sweet spot
Here’s a tasty recipe for a healthy mid-week tomato pasta with tons of natural sweetness.