Our Gym Plus resident nutritionist Alex Dobbs shares her tips on how to replace sugar in your diet.
How does sugar impact us?
Sugar is the largest contributor to weight gain and obesity in Ireland. Sugars are ‘simple carbohydrates’, and are also found in fructose and glucose in fruit. Simple carbohydrates give you energy, but consuming too much means the body cannot process them properly, which over time can lead to a greater accumulation of fat. Which in turn can cause fatty liver disease, a contributor to diabetes and increased risk of heart disease. Too much sugar in your diet can also raise blood pressure and increase inflammation, both of which can also result in heart disease.
The current advice recommends that adults have no more than 30g of sugar per day, which is approx 5 teaspoons. And understanding food labels is a great tool in understanding how much sugar we use, labels may list sugar as:
- Corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Hydrolysed starch
The higher up on the ingredients list any of these sugars is then the more it contains in the products. Also, look out for carbohydrates listed on the label, and the words ‘of which sugars’. That will tell you how much sugar the item contains per 100g.
• More than 15g per 100g is considered high
• Less than 5g per 100g is considered low
Replacing Sugar in Your Diet
We all know the friend who has magically dropped a stone overnight and shrugs their shoulders when asked for the secret,”Just cut out the sugar out of your diet for a month.”
It sounds easy. However, it is definitely easier said than done. So how can we successfully reduce sugar in our diets?
Sugar creeps into our diet over the long winter months. So it’s time for a little change in our diet this month. A couple of simple rules:
- Stop buying baked goods like biscuits, milk chocolate and sweets.
- Only allow yourself those baked goods you have made at home.
- Start using the healthier sugar alternatives listed below.
- Drink 1 litre of water by lunchtime.
- Stop grazing. Stick to regular meal and snack times.
- Start exercising regularly and get out in the sun.
The Lowdown on Popular Sugar Replacements (Best to worst):
This is a traditional product humans have traditionally used. Buying local honey helps the local economy, local wildlife and farms, and can even help hayfever sufferers by gently “inoculating” them with local pollen to reduce their reaction come springtime. I tend to use honey as my preferred sugar in many dishes including yoghurt, granola, or on a slice of toast.
This lovely brown liquid sugar is made from the sugar maple, which is filtered to remove impurities. It’s a very simple process and a totally natural product, which is why I love this sweetener. I love using it in porridge or yoghurt.
This sweetener is derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. It’s totally natural but can have a funny side-taste to it. However, it’s quite handy to use in tea or coffee. It contains no calories. You can reduce the sugar content in baking by adding stevia powder (careful not to substitute 1:1 because Stevia is much sweeter than sugar!). I personally don’t use it but rate it highly.
This natural sugar contains small amounts of inulin, a dietary fibre that feeds your gut bacteria. It has a lower glycemic index than table sugar, which reduces the likelihood of blood sugar hikes happening after using this sugar.
A sugar alcohol extracted from hemicellulose (tree bark) with a sweet minty flavour. It has been used in the food industry in sugar-free chewing gum since the 1970’s. Has antibacterial properties so certainly useful in chewing gum. This is also the reason why I don’t recommend eating large amounts, there is a risk that it would harm beneficial gut bacteria.
This is a high fructose syrup extracted from the Agave plant. It’s actually quite highly processed and contains too much fructose (which easily gets stored by the liver) for my likings.
This is an artificially produced sugar substitute or sweetener and contains no calories. It’s licensed to be safe for use but has a bad reputation. I personally don’t like it because it maintains our longing for sugar in tea, coffee, etc. I like to introduce my clients to natural sugar alternatives and reduce their sweet palate over time instead.
Small changes make the biggest difference and you will feel the benefits of a reduced sugar diet within weeks. Including small amounts of free sugars in your diet is fine, but remember they should only be included as occasional treats rather than every day foods or drinks. The more fresh foods and drinks you include in your diet, the less room there will be for free sugars.