‘Free sugars’, also known as ‘added sugars’, are everywhere. From frozen meals, takeaway meals to cakes, biscuits, soft drinks and even some brands of bread. It is this free sugar that is the most harmful of sugars to our health and even unnecessary in our diet.
What are ‘free’ sugars?
Free sugars are those that are added to a food or drink, and should not be confused with those that naturally occur within a specific ingredient.
All carbohydrates are a type of sugar technically, however the ones we are discussing are simple sugars (the unhealthy types) yet foods like sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa and millet are all complex carbohydrates/sugars (the healthy types).
To make a sugar “free” means to process it and remove it from the cell of the food we eat. Therefore the free sugar is now on its own and has little other parts to it, including the important nutritious parts of food such as vitamins, minerals and fibre. When the fibre especially is removed, this sugar has the ability to spike blood sugar levels dangerously high. Examples of free sugars include cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, fructose and honey.
How much free sugar is recommended per day?
In the UK, the government guidelines state adults should not get more than 5% of our total calories (energy) from free sugars. But at the moment, the average UK adult is consuming twice as much every day.
Do we even need free sugars?
The problem is free sugars are just not nutritionally sound food and they do far more damage to our health than just to our teeth (as was first reported), therefore it could be argued they are not needed at all. Especially given their addictive nature from the ‘feel-good factor’ they provide, which leads us to crave more and make it hard to stop eating.
Free sugars are metabolised differently to other healthy foods also, therefore when we over-consume them, they easily cause weight gain. Being overweight increases a persons risk factor for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke, and having a chronic health condition can impact your immune system leaving it to become weakened and unable to protect you on a daily basis.
How to reduce your free sugar intake
Reducing free sugars or removing them completely from your diet is a challenge to most people. But taking baby steps to reduce your consumption can go a long way when it comes to helping your body become healthy again.
Here are some tips to get you going:
- Slowly reduce, and then cut out completely, free sugar added to your tea or coffee.
- Look for a cereal that is a wholegrain source and free of added sugars.
- Reduce your consumption of fruit juice – try not to have more than once a day.
- Be sure to not skip breakfast, and add some protein – doing so will keep you fuller for longer and help avoid unhealthy snacking.
- If you are going out to work or for a long day out, be sure to prepare some healthy snacks and lunch to eat when hunger strikes.
It is common and natural for people who skip meals and let themselves get over-hungry to want to eat something sweet for a quick energy boost. However, you can avoid this by taking regular food breaks and honouring your hunger, and not just honouring your work or home to-do list. To be able to stay on top of today’s fast-paced lifestyle after-all, it is important you are firstly nourished to do so.