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Are you consuming hidden sugars?

In the quest for weight management and overall health, one ingredient stands out as a major culprit: added sugar. The Australian community, like many others, faces the challenge of balancing their dietary choices to promote a healthy lifestyle. Understanding the impact of added sugar and how to spot it in our food is a crucial step towards achieving our goals.

The Healthy Eating Pyramid, a valuable resource for Australians, advises that sugary drinks and sweets should be consumed sparingly, if at all. Similarly, the Healthy Eating Plate excludes foods with added sugars. This highlights the fact that our bodies do not require additional carbohydrates from added sugar to function optimally.

To better comprehend the amount of added sugar present in a product, it can be helpful to visualize the sugar content. A spoonful of sugar amounts to approximately 4 grams. When reading nutrition labels, this simple conversion can assist us in grasping the quantity of added sugar in a particular item. For instance, a 350 ml can of cola contains a staggering 39 grams, which equates to nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar!

Unfortunately, studies reveal that the average Australian adult, teenager, and child consume around 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day, contributing approximately 270 calories to their daily intake. While we may add sugar or sweeteners like honey to our food or beverages, the majority of added sugar comes from processed and prepared foods. Sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts, and sweet snacks like ice cream, pastries, and cookies are the primary sources of added sugars in the Australian diet. Additionally, breakfast cereals and yogurt, seemingly innocent choices, also contribute significantly to our sugar consumption.

Recognizing the need to address this issue, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 advises all individuals aged 2 years and older to limit their intake of added sugars to less than 10% of total calories. For a daily intake of 2,000 calories, this translates to approximately 50 grams or 12 teaspoons of sugar. However, it's important to note that toddlers and infants under 2 years of age should not consume solids or beverages with added sugars.

The Australian Heart Association (AHA) goes even further, recommending a stricter limit of no more than 6 teaspoons or 24 grams of added sugar per day for most adult women, and no more than 9 teaspoons or 36 grams for most men. Children between the ages of 2 and 18 should aim for less than 6 teaspoons or 24 grams of added sugars per day, with sugary beverages limited to no more than 240 ml per week.

Identifying added sugars in processed foods has become easier with the updated Nutrition Facts label. The label now distinguishes between "Total Sugars" and "Added Sugars." This development enables consumers to assess the amount of added sugar in a product and make informed choices based on their dietary needs. It is important to be mindful of the ingredient list as well, as added sugars can appear under various names. Familiarise yourself with terms such as agave nectar, high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, and many others that denote the presence of added sugar.

When it comes to weight management, sugary drinks deserve particular attention. These beverages not only contribute empty calories but also fail to provide any substantial nutritional benefits. Research suggests that liquid carbohydrates, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, are less satiating than solid food, leaving individuals feeling hungry despite the high caloric content. Consuming excessive amounts of these drinks has been linked to the development of conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

To put things into perspective, a typical 500-ml bottle of sugar-sweetened soda, lemonade, or iced tea contains approximately 65 grams of added sugar, equivalent to 16 teaspoons of table sugar. Imagine consuming just one 355-ml

can of a sugar-sweetened soft drink daily without compensating by reducing calorie intake elsewhere—over three years, this habit alone could lead to a weight gain of up to 6.8 kilograms.

When it comes to cereals and other foods, added sugars can be deceiving. Some products mask the amount of sugar by using multiple forms of sugar with different names, listing each one individually on the label. It's essential to remain vigilant and spot all sources of added sugars, even if they are not listed among the first few ingredients. Be cautious of foods that may appear healthy due to added ingredients like whole grains or antioxidants, as they can still contain substantial amounts of added sugar.

Here are some practical tips to reduce your intake of added sugar:

  1. Choose plain yogurt without added sugar and enhance the flavor by stirring in fresh or frozen fruit, unsweetened applesauce, or a dash of cinnamon.

  2. Opt for cereals with 5% of the Daily Value or less of added sugars and add sliced ripe banana or berries for natural sweetness.

  3. Select beverages like water, seltzer, herbal tea, and coffee without added sugar. For a subtle flavor boost, add a slice of orange, lemon, lime, or cucumber.

  4. When a craving for sweets strikes, try healthier alternatives such as 30 grams of unsweetened dried fruit, 150 grams of ripe fresh fruit, or a 28-gram square of 75% dark chocolate.

  5. When baking, reduce the amount of added sugar by 60 to 80 milliliters. Alternatively, substitute half the sugar amount with unsweetened applesauce or mashed ripe banana. For example, instead of 240 ml of sugar, use 120 ml of sugar and 120 ml of mashed fruit.

  6. If you decide to indulge in a favorite treat high in sugar, practice moderation by consuming a smaller portion than usual. Savor and fully enjoy it by chewing slowly.

  7. Remember that your taste buds can adapt to different sweetness levels. As you gradually reduce your total sugar intake, you may find that your cravings for sweets diminish or that certain foods now taste overly sweet.

By becoming more mindful of our added sugar intake and implementing simple strategies to reduce it, we can take control of our weight management journey while fostering better overall health. Let's make informed choices and prioritise our well-being by avoiding excessive added sugar consumption.

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