If you are like most people on the planet, you probably enjoy a sweet treat during the day. Maybe you prefer some sugar on your oats for breakfast or a glass of fruit juice to get you started in the morning. You might eat a piece of candy after lunch or add some sugar to your coffee. You probably also enjoy an ice-cold soda once in a while.
Of course, it is perfectly okay to enjoy a little bit of a sweet treat sometimes. Our brains actually prefer sugary tastes (this is why you can become practically addicted to sugar). But did you know that added sugar is the single worst ingredient in our modern diet?
Children and adults today consume way too much sugar, which can unfortunately be quite a big health risk.
What is sugar?
Sugar can be divided into natural sugars, which are called intrinsic sugars, and free sugars. Intrinsic sugars are naturally found in fruits, vegetables and milk. These sugars are absolutely fine, and there is no reported evidence of any adverse effects from consuming them.
Free sugars are sugars added to foods and beverages for preservation, taste, etc. However, free sugars are also naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. These free sugars can be bad for your health, so you should try to limit your intake of them.
In adults and children, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10%, but preferably below 5%, of our total energy intake.
Why is too much sugar bad for your health?
Consuming too much free sugar can seriously harm a person’s health. Free sugars provide a lot of calories but no added nutrients, which is why free sugars are often referred to as empty calories. Therefore, one of the concerns is that an increased intake of free sugars, such as from sugar-sweetened beverages, will increase a person’s overall energy intake and reduce the intake of healthier, more nutritious foods. This can lead to malnutrition, overweight and obesity and an increased risk of various diseases, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
Furthermore, a high intake of free sugars can lead to dental decay, causing pain, anxiety, functional limitation (including poor school attendance and performance in children) and social limitations due to tooth loss.
How much sugar do your children consume?
Children (and adults) today consume way too much free sugar. In some countries, the daily intake is above 20% of the total energy intake. This is more than double the amount recommended by the WHO, and it causes serious health risks, one of the biggest of which is overweight and obesity.
Overweight and obese children are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, sleep disorders and liver disease. They may also suffer from low self-esteem, depression or social isolation because they do not have the same opportunities to live active lives like other children.
It has also shown that childhood obesity increases the risk of obesity in adulthood, including the risk factors this can involve .
According to the WHO, current evidence suggests that an increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sodas and fruit juices, is one of the leading causes of children’s increased consumption of free sugars today. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you help your children reduce their intake of these drinks. Of course, candy, cakes, etc. should also be kept to a minimum.
How to minimize free sugars in your diet?
Free sugars are primarily found in sugar-sweetened beverages, processed foods, candy, cakes, etc. But they can be found in many different foods, so you should always have a look at nutrition labels when you go grocery shopping. Even foods disguised as “health foods” can be loaded with added sugars.
The simplest way to cut back on free sugars is to simply avoid processed foods completely. However, this approach can be quite difficult in the world today, and it can be quite an expensive way of living. Instead, try these quick tips:
1) Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, lemonade and fruit juices.
2) Limit your consumption of candy and sweets.
3) Only eat cake, cookies, etc. once a week.
4) Bake your own bread and cakes. There are numerous recipes for sugar-free cakes out there.
5) Avoid canned fruits and choose fresh fruits instead.
6) Avoid dried fruits, which they contain very high amounts of sugars.
7) Be aware that many low-fat or diet foods that have had fat removed from them often contain high amounts of sugar.
8) Choose natural foods, like natural yoghurt, and sweeten them yourself with fresh fruit and vanilla.
9) Be aware that other sugars, like agave, honey, organic cane sugar, coconut sugar, etc., are also free sugars.
10) Choose other sweeteners and spices instead, such as bananas, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, almond extract, ginger, peaches, etc.
Did you know?
That sugar can affect the elasticity of your skin, and eating too much sugar can give you wrinkles?
That eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain, which in turn increases your risk of health conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes?
That a single can of Coke has 39 grams (about 10 teaspoons) of sugar? This is about 14 grams more than the WHO says we should consume all day.
That much of the sugars consumed today are “hidden” in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets? For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams (around 1 teaspoon) of free sugars.