Thursday, 26 June 2014

How to control those sugar urges

By Amanda Ursell

It can’t have missed anyone’s attention that sugar is grabbing the headlines on a regular basis. Today, both the Public Health England (PHE) report called Sugar Reduction: Responding to the Challenge and the brand new Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) Carbohydrates and Health Report have created a few more…

As PHE tells us, here in the UK we eat more sugar than we should, with all population groups exceeding the recommendation that no more than 10% of our average total energy intake should be consumed as sugar.

At the moment, food survey data shows that adults are getting 11.2% of their calories from sugar, teens 15.1%, four to 10 year olds 14.7% and 18 month to three year olds 11.9%.

The fact that we eat more than we should is, says PHE, bad for our health, and people’s health would benefit if average sugar intakes in England were reduced.

SACN agrees and has gone one step further by recommending the dietary reference value for free sugars should be set at a population average of around 5% of dietary energy for age groups from two years upwards.

So how do we get our sugar intakes down? Well, we need to ensure that the food industry knows that we want reductions to be made wherever possible, and to hold them accountable to promises to lower levels of sugar in our foods when they sign up to voluntary reduction pledges. 

But we also need to take personal control over our sugar consumption. Using latest sugar consumption data, we show you how you can make the biggest ‘reduction gains’.

Soft drinks These currently provide the biggest proportion of sugar in our diets: 16% of adults’ sugar intake here in England, 30% of teenagers’, 17% of four to 10 year olds’ and 12% of 18 month to three year olds’. If all age groups were to swap these to sugar-free versions or water, sugar intakes would be dramatically lowered within the population in one fail swoop.

Sweets These are the next biggest overall contributor to sugar in our diets, with the four to 10 year old topping the consumption tables. Having mostly sweet-free days and keeping sweets as a treat makes sense for your teeth and your weight.

Biscuits, cakes, pastries, fruit pies and buns Another obvious target group, providing an average of 7% of our total sugar intakes across all age groups. Start by simply reducing your current intake by half. One biscuit instead of two, or sharing a piece of cake or a pudding. Next, swap from sugar-packed versions like glazed biscuits to plain or have a currant bun instead of an iced bun. Eventually, move on to swapping biscuits, puddings and cakes for a handful of nuts, some fruit or a natural yogurt instead, saving the former as treats, not everyday indulgences.

Table sugar and preserves Table sugar, jams and marmalade make up 26% of an adult’s sugar intake combined. Cut back gradually; it’s surprising how quickly your taste buds get used to things. Try halving the jam and marmalade as toppings for bread and toast and consider swapping to things like ricotta cheese or peanut butter instead.

Alcohol This provides 10% of our overall sugar intake as adults, so look for lower-sugar versions of alcoholic drinks. Dry wine has less sugar than sweet or medium and the same goes for cider and sherry, while a shot of spirits with a diet mixer is going to have less sugar than a cocktail made with standard mixers.

Breakfast cereals Porridge, Weetabix and Oatibix are just a few of the lower-sugar choices available. Cereals can add fibre, vitamins and minerals to our diet, coming from both the cereal and the milk it is eaten with. Select healthy versions and you can get the benefits minus extra sugar.

Fruit juice You can’t compare fruit juice with sugary drinks because, unlike the latter, they do provide vitamins and minerals. You do, however, need to stick to 150ml servings as adults (the size of a small individual yogurt pot) and to dilute a child’s juice with water and serve it only at mealtimes to reduce any negative impact on the teeth.

For more information on cutting sugar in your diet, check out Change4Life Smart Swaps.

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