You couldn’t have failed to notice in the media all the publicity surrounding sugar. It has been labelled the new tobacco, which I think gives the wrong message. Smoking doesn’t appeal to everyone, but sugar does, especially to children. Smoking is also something you actively take part in. Yet sometimes we are not aware of the amount of sugar we are consuming, especially when it comes to ‘free sugars’; the name given when sugar is added to foods by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer.
The UK (along with many other parts of the world) is in the middle of an obesity crisis. Over 62% of UK adults and 28% of children have been classed as either overweight or obese. And it is predicted that over half the population will be obese by 2014 – that’s a decade sooner than previously predicted. There are obviously health risks associated with being overweight or obese not least high blood pressure, an increased risk of diabetes and coronary heart disease.
Let's not completely vilify sugar, it is naturally present in healthy foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, which also provides us with lots of vitamin’s and are a valuable source of fibre, which we need to fill us up and help our digestive systems. It is important that our whole families aim for the 5-a-day.
We also add sugar to many of our foods like teas and coffee or to homemade cakes, biscuits etc. And to an extent we can control that and reduce the amount if we want to lose weight or protect our children’s teeth.
But what about the hidden sugars; we are often unaware of how much sugar is present in the food we buy and the way it is labelled is not always helpful. The new ‘Action on sugar’ (a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health) has been tasked to bring about a reduction in the amount of sugar in processed foods.
So what can you do to help your family manage their sugar consumption?
Firstly learn to love food labels. These will be changing within the next year or so to make them clearer to understand and will be on the front of all packaging. See my previous article for more details about this. It is important to understand how sugar in grams relates to teaspoons, which we find easier to visualise. So if a can of tomato soup has 20g of sugar that equals 5 tsp of sugar. Put simply; divide the grams by four to get the teaspoons. Try and avoid products with more than 10g of sugar per portion.
Go and have a look in your cupboards and fridge and work out how much sugar is in that ready meal for two, the can of fizzy drink, your favourite biscuits, and the afternoon chocolate treat. And see if it adds up to more than 50-70g (10-14 tsp) - the amount the NHS currently recommends we eat in a day. Although the latest research suggest we should halve that amount to 5tsp or 20g.
Dieters and healthy eaters may think they don’t have to worry because they eat the right kinds of food already; plenty of fruit and veg, low fat or calorie restricted treats. But be warned many of those products have hidden sugar to improve the texture and to add bulk lost by removing the fat. For instance a 150g serving of yeo valley 0% fat vanilla yoghurt has nearly 20g (5tsp) of sugar, Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Crunchy Oat Granola Cinnamon Bar has 9g (2 tsp) sugar, McVities lite chocolate digestive has over 1tsp of sugar per biscuit – interestingly the same amount of sugar is in the non diet version!
And don’t always assume that just because you are exercising the best way to keep hydrated is to have a sports or healthy drink. These can often be packed with sugars that the body just does not need and will store as fat if not used for energy. For instance Lucozade sport elite orange (500ml) has 40g (10 tsp) of sugar – that’s the equivalent to 2 Magnum ice creams. Research has shown that you only need to drink these when you have done more than an hours' worth of high intensity workout.
Children are also at risk of eating too much sugar, as mentioned 28% of children have been classed as overweight or obese. This has serious consequences for their long term health as well as their emotional wellbeing , as often overweight children are bullied at school. Try and get your child to eat fruit rather than sweets. Look at the cereal you give them in the morning - is it packed with sugar? Could you give them a healthier alternative? Both Coco-pops and Frosties have 17g or 4 tsp of sugar per 30g serving. Whereas Weetos and Rice Krispies both have about 2tsp.
We know that like adults, children need to keep hydrated but try and get them to drink water rather than fruit juices and ‘healthier’ drinks as they are often laced with sugar. For instance some shop bought freshly squeezed orange juices can contain as much as 50g (12 ½ tsp) of sugar, that’s equivalent to 10 fingers of KitKat, or 500ml of blackcurrant Ribena which contains 52g (nearly 13 tsp sugar), the same as nearly 9 small pots of Petits Filous Strawberry & Raspberry Fromage Frais.
So please get in to the habit of reading food labels and encourage your whole family to adopt healthier eating principles.
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