strawberry-386241_640We’ve spent years knowing that too much fat is bad for us. But what a lot of people don’t realise is that low-fat or no-fat foods often contain added sugar which increases the calorie content. While it is relatively easy to keep an eye how much sugar you add to coffee or breakfast cereal, it’s less easy to keep track of the sugar content of things as seemingly innocent as yoghurt or orange juice. According to Harvard Health Publications, one in 10 people get quarter of their daily calories from added sugar. It makes up at least 10 percent of the calories consumed by the average American.

This is worrying, because a 15-year study published last year showed that people who obtained a quarter of their calories from added sugar were more than twice as likely to die of heart disease as those who had less than 10% of their daily calories from this source. So it is welcome news that the FDA have proposed changes to nutrition information that will make it clearer which sugars are natural and which are added during processing. The earliest this proposal could show up on food labels is January 2018, but it’s welcome news nonetheless.

But why are added sugars so much worse than natural sugars? Aren’t they all bad for you? While nobody’s claiming that certain sugars are ‘healthy’, natural sugars in foods are coupled with other nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fibre, and even proteins in milk, whereas the only nutrient value of added sugars is empty calories. So the more sugar that is added to food, the less healthy it becomes. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume less than 6 teaspoons of added sugar and men less than 9 teaspoons a day.

But what are our options if we are trying to cut down on sugar? Many sweeteners contain sucrose, which we generally think of as sugar, or glucose or fructose, the two molecules that make up sucrose. One of the few sweeteners that can truly be considered sugar-free is stevia; many others contain varying amounts of sugar, some healthier than others.

One thing to consider is the glycaemic index, which is a measure of how carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels. They are classified as low (<55), medium (55-70) or high (>70), depending on how quickly the carbohydrate is digested and released into the bloodstream. A high GI means foods are digested quickly and sugar is released into the bloodstream rapidly. A low GI means they break down slowly and glucose is released more slowly. It is best to choose low GI foods where possible.

In my next blog post I’ll talk about the¬†various¬†alternatives to sugar and whether they are better for us health-wise.