Sugar is out. Healthy fats are in. You know this already, right? But what if we told you that even though you’ve swapped your chocolate for biltong, you are still consuming far too much sugar on a daily basis?
Putting yourself at imminent risk for diabetes and weight gain.
If you think you’re eating “low sugar”, you might be surprised to discover the stuff in many of your favourite savoury foods too.
Keep reading to discover how insidious sugar really is, and how food manufacturers have snuck this addictive calorie bomb it into virtually every foodstuff you consume.
The rise of Paleo and low-carb
Since paleo diets became mainstream circa 2016, the public began a massive outcry as to the dangers of excess sugar consumption. Fast food chains like McDonalds were quick to adopt a “lower sugar” plan, in the hopes of convincing the public that their “happy meals” were indeed healthy.
With information at our fingertips, and a new “low-carb” diet hitting the shelves every week, a great deal of society started making choices geared towards lowering the number of sugary drinks and snacks in their households.
This is a good first step and we are starting to see stats to prove that people are more discerning about what they purchase.
In the United States, for example, Coke and Pepsi brands declined 2% and 4.5% respectively in 2017. Bottled water consumption has increased by 6.2%, which shows a major shift in the consumption of sugary beverages in the industry.
The effect of all those plastic bottles on the environment aside, at least people are chugging back water instead of soda.
So we can see that on the whole, society is more conscious of the dangers of too many sweets and sodas.
Treats and snacks are optional though, and are not mandatory for health or nutrition. To avoid them is more a matter of willpower than anything else.
We know candy and coke is bad for us, but we wanted to ask this critical question: how much sugar is in the rest of our food? And how much sugar is lurking in products typically thought of as “healthier” alternatives?
Sugar is in everything
The World Health Organisation recommends that people, irrespective of age, reduce their daily intake of sugar to less than 10% (roughly 12 teaspoons) of their total energy intake. If you are looking reduce sugar-related risks even further, try consume no more than 5% (or 6 teaspoons) of sugar per day.
The problem is, sugar is found in virtually every foodstuff known to man. With the exception of meat, fruit and vegetables, you will be hard-pressed to find any store-bought, processed food that doesn’t contain sugar.
We’ve created some simple comparison charts to give you an idea of what we mean:
This is just the tip of the iceberg. You will often find sugar added to low-fat yoghurts, granola, vitamin water, pre-made soups, speciality coffees and pasta sauces.
Then there’s the health bar or protein bar movement. Some making big claims about how much better they are for you, but take a closer look:
It’s shocking to think that even when consuming something savoury, you are still ingesting sugar.
We understand that some items, like sauces, might be consumed in relatively small quantities.
The problem is the knock-on effect. Once you start adding up all the sugar from various food items in your diet, it’s virtually impossible to stick to < 12 g per day.
The problem with too much sugar
High intake of sugar (>25% of daily calories) has been linked to a 50% increase in risk for heart disease, even if you aren’t obese.
In addition, an article in the British Medical Journal concludes that “A diet high in added sugars for just a few weeks has been found to produce numerous abnormalities found in patients with CHD including elevated insulin levels and insulin resistance.”
According to SugarScience, excessive sugar consumption can also:
- Drastically increase your risk of developing type II diabetes
- Damage your liver and pancreas
- Damage your teeth (Increase visits to your dentist in centurion)
- Damage your liver and pancreas
- Increase your cholesterol
- Cause your blood pressure to skyrocket
- Possibly play a role in developing Alzheimer’s disease
As if crippling your physical health isn’t enough, research has indicated that sugar is addictive.
One study examined the behavioural and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake and the research indicated that “The behavioural findings with sugar are similar to those observed with drugs of abuse.”
South African has obesity levels to rival the USA
With the prevalence of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor and sugar laden food, it’s no wonder that in South Africa, more than one in four adults is obese.
Obesity itself increases one’s risk for diabetes, high-blood pressure, joint problems, breathing problems, to name a few.
A simple measure to determine whether or not you are obese, is to use the body mass index (BMI) calculation. This calculation is by no means perfect, but it can give one an indication of whether or not they are heading towards being overweight or obese.
A BMI of 25 is considered overweight, while 30 or more is considered obese. You can calculate your BMI here.
A more accurate measurement would be a body fat measurement, which can be performed with bioelectrical impedance (BIA) scales or callipers. Callipers are often inaccurate, because you have to pinch the exact same spot every time to get an accurate reading.
Whether you rely on BMI, scales or callipers, knowing if your weight falls into the healthy range is what is important, so find a method that works for you.
So what should you eat?
If sugar is in virtually everything, you may be wondering if you should just give up now and survive on lettuce leaves from here on out. That’s not necessary!
Some of the best ways to combat sugar addiction and cravings is to eat healthy, natural foods that promote a sense of satisfaction and satiety.
Dieticians and nutritionists recommend a diet full of fresh vegetables, lean protein, healthy sources of fats (think avocados, olive oil, raw and unsalted nuts) and complex carbohydrates.
Read the food labels
Another proactive step you can take, is to read food labels.
Sugar goes by many more names than just “sugar”. Here are 20 different names to look out for:
You also need to determine if sugar is a main ingredient in what you are about to eat.
When checking food labels, the highest quantity ingredient is listed first, and the rest follow in descending order. So if wheat is listed first and sugar is second, then this would most likely be a high-sugar item.
Also check the carbohydrate section in the “Nutritional Information” panel and see how many grams of sugar per 100g. Anything more than 10g of sugar is on the high side.
Only food with 0.5g or less sugar can claim to be “sugar-free”.
South Africans are exposed to unhealthy food on a daily basis. With our busy lifestyles, it’s challenging to prepare meals from fresh ingredients. Oftentimes, we reach for a pre-made meal in the name of convenience, without thinking of the long-term effect of all the added sugar.
We’ve created a downloadable Sugar Infograpic to highlight how serious the situation is.
Food manufacturers have been quick to say that they are cutting down on the amount of sugar in their existing products. They have also launched thousands of new “low-carb” or “high-protein” cereals and snack bars, in an attempt to convince the public that these are healthier alternatives.
But taking a closer look at various “healthy” products reveals that many of them still contain staggering amounts of sugar.
The best way to reduce sugar from your diet is to be mindful
of its insidious presence in virtually everything you eat.
The time has come to fight back. Make a conscious decision to put your health, and that of your family, above that of corporate greed.