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ACT Nutrition Support Service article - Sugar is sugar - or is it?


Sugar has been getting a bad wrap lately. And for good reason - high sugar diets have been linked to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

While we know that eating too much sugar is not good for our health, not all foods that contain sugar deserve the bad publicity they've been getting.

So before you ditch the sweet stuff, it's important to understand that there's a difference between the foods that contain naturally occurring sugars, and the foods that are packed full of added sugars.

Naturally occurring sugars are those that are found in unprocessed, healthy foods. These include fructose in fruit and lactose in dairy. These sugars come bundled with a range of other important nutrients, including fibre, vitamins and minerals, making them part of nutritious whole foods. 

Added sugars are refined sugars that are added to food products during processing to make them taste sweet. They are often found in energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods such as soft drinks, biscuits, snack bars, lollies, and some cereals. Added sugars must be included in the ingredients list and may be referred to as sugar, honey, cane sugar, glucose syrup, rice malt syrup, maple syrup, golden syrup, molasses, agave or coconut sugar.

How much is too much?

In Australia, the total amount of sugars in a product is listed in the Nutritional Information Panel, but it doesn't distinguish between added and natural sugars. The only way to tell if sugars have been added is by checking the ingredients list. The higher up the list the sugar is, the more sugar the product contains.

So what does it all mean?

When it comes to reducing your sugar intake, keep in mind that foods which contain naturally occurring sugars also contain a range of essential nutrients and can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet. It's the foods that contain a lot of added sugar but do not contain these beneficial nutrients, such as soft drink and lollies, that we should limit our intake of.

Need help getting started?

Try these simple tips to reduce your intake of added sugars:

  • Choose healthier snacks - go for fresh fruit or a small handful of unsalted nuts rather than a muesli bar or biscuit.
  • Be label savvy - use the nutrition information panel and ingredients list on packaged foods to choose those lower in added sugar.
  • Make your own marinades - use olive oil with added spices such as cumin, chilli, garlic and onion to create a delicious home-made marinade.
  • Reduce the amount of sugar in baking - you may be able to reduce the amount by one-third to a half before you notice any difference in taste, or replace the sugar altogether with unsweetened apple sauce.
  • Make water the drink of choice -  try to avoid sugar-sweetened drinks, and flavour water using a squeeze of lemon or lime, or cut up fruits and vegetables.
  • Limit high-sugar foods and drinks - try to limit to special occasions and keep to small portions.

If you or someone you know enjoyed this information, subcribe via the ACT Nutrition Support Service website.  

Article republished with permission from Nutrition Australia ACT Inc.

Lady holding chocolate cupcake