If you’ve ever read at least one article about how sugar impacts your life, you’ve probably read something along the lines of “sugar is evil and must be avoided at all cost”. And while sugar isn’t health food, it’s also not the evil poison that it’s sometimes made out to be – especially because not all sugar is created equal.
Added sugar vs naturally occurring sugar
So now that we’ve established that you’ve heard over and over again about how we should all be eating less sugar, let’s talk about what that actually means: that we should be eating less added sugar. That’s the added sugar in foods to make them taste sweet(er) — like the brown sugar in chocolate chip cookies or the honey you drizzle on your yoghurt.
Added sugar is different from the sugar that occurs naturally in some foods, like fruit or milk. For one, natural sugar comes with a package of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that help offset some of the negative aspects of the sugar content, explains Georgie Fear, RD, author of “Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss.” For instance, fruit has fibre that causes our body to absorb sugar at a slower rate. What that means is that your energy levels won’t spike, you won’t get a sugar rush, and you won’t have to worry about the low feelings you get after the rush is over.
So, the main thing to keep in mind is to not worry about whole fruit or plain dairy (like milk or unsweetened yoghurt) – it’s the foods with added sugar (super processed desserts and drinks) which you need to keep an eye on.
For example, there is evidence that shows that the health risks from sugars, such as tooth decay and unhealthy weight gain, are related to consuming too many added sugars in the diet, not from eating sugars that are naturally present in fruits or milk.
For this reason, it is recommended that no more than 10% of your daily calories come from free sugars. For the average adult, this is about 50g or only slightly more than the amount of sugar in a can of regular soft drink or soda. Foods that are sources of free sugars, such as juices, soft drinks, biscuits and lollies, are often high in calories and have little other nutritional value. It is often easy to consume more of them compared with fresh fruit and they also may be replacing other nutritious foods in the diet.
Consider a bottle of fruit juice – you would have to eat six whole oranges to get the same amount of sugar you consume in the juice. And because the fruit is in juice form, it counts towards your daily limit of free sugars.
We need to eat fruit
Unlike many foods that are high in free sugars, fruits are packaged with lots of nutrients that help provide us with a balanced diet for good health.
For starters, fruit is an excellent source of fibre. An average banana will provide 20-25% (6g) of your recommended daily fibre intake. Getting enough fibre in the diet is important for protecting against bowel cancer. There is clear room for improvement in our fibre intake – adults in many countries consume only about half of the recommended amount each day.
The fibre in fruit, which is often absent in many foods and drinks with free sugars, may also help to fill you up, which means you eat less overall at a meal. It’s not clear exactly why this is, but it could be related to the volume of the food (especially compared with liquids) and the chewing involved.
So what now?
Well, all of this doesn’t mean you have to give up on ever eating dessert – dessert is delicious and it makes people happy – you just have to find the right dessert for you. One such example is the Decadent Snickers Caramel Cake: with a crunchy peanut base, a salted caramel cream made from dates and peanut butter, and a super tasty chocolate ganache cream, this will both satisfy your sweet tooth and keep your sugar levels constant. It’s the combination of nuts and fruits that makes it a dessert you don’t have to feel guilty about!