How Much Sugar Is Really OK?
As I bite into a fresh apple, I stop to think about what I am eating. I am consuming a fruit, which means I am absorbing fructose. And what is fructose? A SUGAR (cue scary music)!
In a world where the consumption of sugar is being slammed (for good reason), it concerns me that all sugar is being treated equally, and it shouldn’t be.
While some sugary foods should be avoided like the plague, others, if consumed appropriately, can be your friend.
So, let’s set the record straight.
WHAT IS SUGAR?
Sugar is a sweet soluble carbohydrate. There are different types of sugars which come from various sources, including corn, sugarcane, and sugar beet.
Glucose, fructose, lactose, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, maltose, dextrose, galactose – each one of these is a form of sugar.
When it comes to processed foods and drinks, sugar is EVERYWHERE. In fact, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Americans shockingly consume 156 pounds of sugar a year on a per capita basis. That is HUGE!
Present in a refined form in nearly all man-made foods, including cereals, sauces, juice, yoghurts, bread, desserts, ‘health’ bars, and alcohol (don’t get me started on children’s snacks), processed added sugar is toxic – contributing to a whole host of disorders, including obesity, heart disease, dementia, diabetes, and arguably, even cancer.
This kind of sugar should be avoided at all costs.
NATURALLY OCCURRING SUGARS
However, when it comes to naturally occurring sugars that Mother Nature has created for us – found in fruits and even certain vegetables – this is different.
While we still need to be careful about how much we consume (eating six oranges in one sitting is not advisable), these sugars are uninterrupted and have been shown to complement the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals (compounds which protect the body from chronic disease patterns) and fiber that the fruit provides to the body.
SO, HOW MUCH SUGAR IS OK?
Am I saying it is OK to eat fruit all day long? NO.
What I am saying is that eating a balanced diet of real whole foods, including fruit and vegetables, is still the best thing you can do for your health.
As long as you are aware of the foods that contain high naturally occurring sugars, you can regulate your intake and eat them in moderation.
Even within the fruit sphere, some choices are lower in fructose than others, such as berries, grapefruit, avocado (yes, it is a fruit!) and lemons/limes. Bananas, figs, oranges, grapes, lychees, pineapples and mangos, on the other hand, contain higher levels of fructose.
In addition, dried fruit has had its water removed, so should be restricted (as the sugar is far more concentrated), while fruit juice is packed full of the sweet stuff, so should be consumed very cautiously, if at all.
Consuming sugar is about knowledge and context.
With the World Health Organization recommending a person's sugar intake should be limited to six teaspoons a day (about two to three serves of fruit a day – less than the levels of sugar in just one 50g Mars Bar), naturally occurring sugars are the only source of sugars you should be contemplating eating.
MY TEN TIPS TO SUGAR CONSUMPTION:
- Eat fruit and veggies in season, as they will be harmoniously balanced to feed your body the right energy/nutrients for the time of year.
- Limit fruit to two to three pieces a day. Obviously, if you crave something sweet, having an extra piece of fruit is a lot better than munching on a processed sugary treat, however.
- Add natural, healthy fats and protein (such as nuts/seeds/cheese) when eating fruit as this can help reduce any sugar highs and lows and satiate the appetite, creating a balanced snack.
- Don’t eat anything with artificial sweeteners in – these can be just as harmful to your health (if not more) as processed sugar.
- Be wary of ‘low fat’ labels, which often mean the food has higher added sugar content (to make up for lost flavor and texture).
- Do not consume energy drinks, soda, or cordial.
- If you need to sweeten foods yourself, consider a dash of organic maple syrup or honey.
- Restrict fruit juices (these can contain 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar, which is the same amount as in a can of soda).
- Avoid processed, package prepared foods and fast foods. Eat natural whole foods, loading up on unlimited veggies.
- Remember, humans and pre-humans have been eating fruit for millions of years. The human body is well-adapted to the small amounts of fructose found in nature, when eaten in moderation.