How much sugar is REALLY in your favourite foods – from salad dressing to bread
WHEN a fruit yoghurt contains more sugar than ice cream and a cereal bar is sweeter than chocolate, you know something has gone terribly wrong with our diets.
Glance at the ingredients list of the foods you buy and you will discover that sugar is everywhere. It lurks in everyday staples including bread, sauces and salad dressings — and it is used in gobsmacking amounts.
A Which? analysis of 100 store cereals found almost two thirds contained more sugar per recommended serving than a jam doughnut.
So, if you’re struggling to shift the pounds yet eat a healthy diet, read on.
In her new book, Say No To Sugar, Katherine Bassford aims to help you take control of your sugar cravings — without depriving your sweet tooth.
“Whether it’s alcohol and crisps or a cup of tea and cake, habits underlie much of our sugar addiction,” she tells Fabulous Daily. “Happily, you can train the brain to get better at self-control.
“The brain remodels itself based on what you do on a regular basis, so practise juggling every day and you’ll get better at juggling. The same is true of sugar. Practise a little self-control every day and your brain gets better at controlling your impulses. If you take small steps to reduce your sugar intake, using some of the strategies below, you should find your biological need to eat sugar eases its hold on you.”
What’s so bad about sugar?
IT’S good to treat yourself, right? Absolutely, but it’s important to get clued up first. Growing up, you will have been told time and again that sugar is bad for your teeth. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Like with everything, sugar in moderation is part of a healthy diet. But eat too much and you will put on weight. Obesity is one of the biggest health crises facing the UK, with almost two thirds (63 per cent) of adults in England classed as overweight or obese.
If that was not dangerous enough, the coronavirus pandemic has only served to reinforce the message that carrying extra weight can be deadly.
Studies have shown that overweight or obese patients are at greater risk of dying from Covid-19. And Type 2 diabetes — which is linked to obesity — is another risk factor for worse coronavirus outcomes.
Meanwhile, sugar is also linked to other obesity-related diseases including heart disease and cancer. One common type of sugar, fructose — which is found in table sugar — is a particular worry. Too much in your diet can:
- Make you eat more.
- Make you overweight.
- Trigger insulin resistance.
- Raise the risk of chronic disease.
- Negatively affect the brain and mental health.
- Be highly addictive.
So, if there was ever a time to start taking your sugar intake seriously, it’s now.
What are the ‘sugar traps’ – and how can you avoid them?
LIFE is busy, and with that constant rush comes a sugar minefield, Katherine warns.
With more of us going back to work, commutes to tackle and soon the school run too, it leaves little time for anything else, let alone good nutrition.
But being short of time only increases the risk of grabbing food on the go, and — you guessed it — that’s where sugar is most likely to lurk. Even “healthy” convenience foods are packed with the stuff.
Here, Katherine reveals the most common sugar traps we all fall into, and shares her ultimate list of healthy swaps and alternatives.
- Say No To Sugar is out on August 13, £6.99, published by Summersdale Publishers, summersdale.com.
BREAKFAST SUGAR TRAPS
YOU can probably spot this one a mile off but just in case . . . Chocolate cereals are packed with sugar – most are around 35 per cent sugar. That is four teaspoons per 45g serving.
But what might surprise you is just how much of the sweet stuff is hiding in so-called “healthy” cereals, such as granola. They often pack even more of a sugar-punch per serving than a jam doughnut, say, typically containing two teaspoons per serving.
Katherine says cereals marketed as being “high in fibre and low in fat” are often just coated in honey or sugar and mixed with dried fruit – another stealth ingredient. Other phrases to be wary of are “sweetened with honey”, “no added sugar” and “natural sugars” – they are all code for “contains fructose”.
Swap to: Shredded Wheat, wheat biscuits or sugar-free dried-fruit-free muesli can cut your sugar intake in one fell swoop. Do this every day and you will typically slash your weekly sugar consumption by 14 teaspoons.
IN your rush to leave home in the morning, a couple of slices of toast seems like a safe bet for breakfast. But most shop-bought loaves contain a surprising amount of sugar.
While white bread (four per cent) and bagels (six per cent-plus) are the worst offenders, analysis has shown some brown and wholemeal brands are just as bad, with some containing more than half a teaspoon per slice.
Swap to: Opt for sourdough, rye or wholemeal pitta, as these come with little to no added sugar.
JAM might taste great – and you might be able to tell yourself it is only fruit . . . but it isn’t.
Most are more than 50 per cent sugar, so you might just as well opt for chocolate spread.
Swap to: Your best bet is to go for unsweetened nut butters such as cashew or almond. Spreads such as Marmite contain minimal or no sugar, or mash half an avocado instead.
LUNCH SUGAR TRAPS
SOME of these contain more than 12 per cent sugar, which means two teaspoons per serving.
Swap to: There is no need to shun a dressing altogether – just switch to an olive oil-based option and lose balsamic vinegar (really high in sugar) for red or white wine vinegar instead.
Add garlic, herbs and mustard with a squeeze of lemon to add extra taste.
SOUPS are healthy, right? “Not always,” is Katherine’s answer.
Shop-bought versions can contain added sugar to counteract slightly unripe and acidic- tasting tomatoes. Beware canned varieties too because added sugar is used to extend shelf life.
Swap to: Cook your own veggie soup and freeze it into portions ready for lunches during the week. Add meat, chickpeas or lentils to turn it into a more filling stew.
DINNER SUGAR TRAPS
THE ultimate when it comes to convenience foods, ready meals are packed with sugar.
One study published in the British Medical Journal found NONE of the 100 store-brand options tested complied with nutritional guidelines set by the World Health Organisation.
Swap to: If you are really short of time, opt for meals that take just minutes to prepare, such as a stir-fry veg pack. Homemade pizza is a good option. Simply spread tomato puree on top of a wholemeal pitta, add cheese and your other fave toppings then pop in the oven for four minutes or until cooked.
ANOTHER quick fix when you have got hungry mouths to feed and no time, pasta sauces might appear healthy.
But a serving of spag-bol sauce from a jar has, on average, around two teaspoons of sugar, while one dollop of tomato sauce has about the same.
Swap to: Make your own quick sauces by blending veggies with tinned tomatoes or creme fraiche. If wanted, add your own garlic and spice. It is cheaper too.
SO HOW MUCH SHOULD WE HAVE?
THE NHS recommends that free sugars – those added to food or drinks, and found naturally in honey, syrups and fruit and veg juices, as well as smoothies – don’t add up to more than five per cent of the calories you eat each day.
- Adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars a day, or seven teaspoons.
- Kids aged seven to ten should have no more than 24g, or six teaspoons.
- Kids aged four to six should have no more than 19g, or five teaspoons.
That is all less than the sugar found in a single can of fizzy cola, which can have up to nine teaspoons per 330ml. And sugars can be found naturally in milk, fruit and veg – but they do not count as part of your daily allowance.
WE all need a treat every now and again . . . and a takeaway CAN be a part of a healthy diet. But some are better than others when it comes to their sugar content.
A Which? study of Chinese takeaways found sweet-and-sour chicken can contain an incredible 16 teaspoons per dish. The average chicken tikka masala contains eight teaspoons of sugar.
Swap to: Research found pizzas contain the least sugar by far but they are made with processed flour in the base, which can cause blood sugar to rise rapidly. So best stick to thin-crust pizzas.
Low-sugar takeaway dishes include dry curries, such as tandoori with plain naan, and Chinese soups using steamed vegetables and prawns.
SNACK SUGAR TRAPS
MOST cereal and fruit bars are so packed with sugar they would be more at home on the shelves of a sweet shop. Most contain at least four teaspoons of sugar.
“Sugar-free” bars usually contain fruit sugars from dried fruits such as dates, which means they are packed full of fructose.
If it is not, then fruit, honey, agave, maple syrup or artificial sweeteners will be lurking to sweeten them up.
HEARTBREAKING news for all you savoury fans out there: Crisps count as a sugar trap.
They are made from potato and carbohydrates which are broken down into glucose in the body. The same is true of rice, corn (tortillas) and wheat (pretzels).
Whether crisps are “natural” or not, and whether they are baked or fried, all will affect your insulin levels in a negative way.
HERE are a few ideas to get your snacks sugar-free:
- Handful of unflavoured nuts
- A hard-boiled egg
- Small piece of cheese
- Slices of smoked salmon
- Coconut flakes
- Vegetable crudities with hummus or guacomole
- Homemade flapjack
- Canned tuna
- Homemade crisps
NEARLY four in five carbonated, sugar-sweetened drinks contain more than six teaspoons of sugar per 330ml serving. Seemingly healthier options, such as flavoured water, elderflower and cloudy lemonade, can contain more sugar than a regular Coke.
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