With every second person ‘quitting sugar’ these days, you might be considering jumping on the sugar-free bandwagon yourself. But before you do, let me tell you that not all sugars are bad.
Let’s take a step back…
When you think of sugar, what foods come to mind?
For most people, the answer is something along the lines of lollies, chocolate or ice-cream. The sugar in these foods is called ‘added sugar’ – and this is the type you want to limit.
Not only does this added sugar provide extra calories, the foods they come in offer little nutritional benefit. But before you ditch just the white stuff – remember that brown sugar, honey and maple syrup are all classified as ‘added sugars’, too.
There are healthier foods that contain sugar (read: natural sugar), like fruit and dairy. You don’t have to be concerned about these foods though – the company they keep is far more beneficial.
Sugars in fruit
You see, fruit is packed with a range of vitamins and minerals to keep your body working it’s best, antioxidants to fight disease and fibre to support a healthy gut.
Fruit is also low in energy – unlike the discretionary choices above which are energy dense. So, it’s a great between meal snack that won’t break the calorie bank.
Plus, fruit is generally low GI, meaning it’s sugars are slowly released, keeping you feeling full. On the flip side, foods high in added sugar are usually high GI, so you get a quick spike in blood sugar and won’t feel as satisfied.
Sugars in dairy
In terms of dairy, it’s a story along the same lines. You’ve probably heard of lactose before – and this is simply the natural sugar that’s found in this food group.
Again, dairy comes with a raft of nutrients, like muscle-building protein, calcium for strong bones and potassium to support heart and muscle function. It’s certainly classed as a nutrient-dense food, too.
So, how much sugar can you actually have?
The World Health Organisation suggests that we cap our intake of added sugar at a maximum of six teaspoons per day. In a practical sense, this means you should be cautious not just of lollies, chocolate and ice-cream, but also cakes and biscuits, a range of packaged foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, too.
But you don’t have to wipe dessert off the menu completely – remember that’s it’s perfectly healthy to enjoy treat foods occasionally and in moderation (just don’t make them a daily habit). After all, life’s all about balance.
In terms of natural sugar, you don’t have to be worried. Include fruit and dairy in quantities in line with the dietary guidelines and you’re off to a good start!
To get you up to speed with what these guidelines actually are, adults from the age of 19 are recommended to have two serves of fruit per day. FYI, one serve is one medium apple or banana, two small kiwis or a cup of fruit salad.
In terms of dairy, adults between the ages of 19-50 should have two and a half serves per day. One serve equals one cup of milk, three quarters of a cup of yoghurt or two slices of hard cheese (or 40 grams).
Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can follow her @honest_nutrition.
While we’re talking sweets, here are 3 clever ways to trick your body into thinking it’s eating sugar. Plus we investigate whether the no-sugar diet is actually good for you.
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