Is your diet healthy? Do you regularly eat “diet” products, drink fruit smoothies or eat Medjool dates as an afternoon snack? Low fat yoghurt anyone?

Advertising would have you believe low fat yoghurt is a healthy snack, aimed at helping you lose weight. However, whenever fat is removed from food, sugar is added in its place. A 200g pot of low fat fruit yoghurt contains approx. 6tsps sugar! 450ml fruit juice, contains 11tsps sugar and we are all aware that the more obvious 600ml bottle of coke is full of sugar – containing a whopping 15tsps!!

Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that digests rapidly, converting to glucose in the body, one of our fuel sources used for energy. A surge of sugar will cause your blood sugar levels to rise rapidly, if consumed as a product such as a soft drink, giving you a sugar rush, with no nutrient benefit. When sugar is consumed as part of a natural food such as fruit or dairy (the sugar in dairy is lactose, which some individuals are allergic or intolerant to) then the fibre, and protein contained in those foods will help to slow the digestive process down, resulting in a steadier supply of energy.

Table sugar is sucrose, which is made up of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Glucose and fructose are metabolized differently in the body. Glucose can be taken up by any cell to be used as energy. If not needed immediately it can be sent to the muscles and stored as glycogen in a limited amount, or sent to the fat cells for storage. Fructose, however, needs to be metabolized in the liver first, before being taken up by cells or placed into storage in the liver. If we are consuming too much glucose and fructose then the majority will end up as a surplus supply which will be stored in both fat cells and in the liver – hence the term “fatty liver”.

Sugar is in our modern foods far more than it ever was for our ancestors. Although they would have indeed eaten fruit and honey, it would have been in very limited amount, and when in season, (or when they could find raw honey) and was far less sweet that the products we have today – which are grown specifically to satisfy our ever-growing sweet-tooth.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day are 9 teaspoons for men (37.5 g) and 6 teaspoons for women (25 g). The recommendation for children is 6 teaspoons (24g) for children aged 5-11 and 5 teaspoons (19g) for children aged 4-6. These recommendations refer to monosaccharides and disaccharides that are added to foods by manufacturers, as well as sugars present in products such as honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrate. Natural sugars found in fruit, vegetables and dairy are not included in these daily guidelines.

However it is important to recognize that sugar is only half of the problem. Because refined carbohydrates are also converted into glucose in the body, the combination of both these and added sugar can result in Metabolic Syndrome – which includes insulin resistance, obesity, type 2 diabetes and countless other modern diseases. And replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners is now thought to be just as bad. Whilst some still spike your blood sugar levels, (with the exception appearing to be stevia), they all affect our brains, making us crave yet more of the sweet stuff.

And it’s not just our waistlines or overall health profile that we should be concerned with. According to a report by Action on Sugar, tooth decay is the leading cause for hospitalisation among 5-9 year olds in the UK, with 26,000 children being hospitalised each year due to tooth decay – that’s 500 children each week! More and more children are now regularly having their baby teeth removed due to decay from sugar.

Here’s how to help reduce your intake of sugar in your diet:

Avoid these foods, in order of importance:

  1. Soft drinks: Sugar-sweetened beverages are the worst culprits and should be avoided completely.
  2. Fruit juices: This may surprise you, but fruit juices actually contain the same amount of sugar as soft drinks!
  3. Candies and sweets: You should drastically limit your consumption of sweets.
  4. Baked goods: Biscuits, cakes, croissants etc. These tend to be very high in sugar and refined carbohydrates.
  5. Fruits canned in syrup: Choose fresh fruits instead.
  6. Low-Fat or Diet Foods: Foods that have had the fat removed from them are often very high in sugar.
  7. Dried fruits: Avoid dried fruits as much as possible as they naturally contain a very high sugar concentration (and often have extra sugar added!) and large amounts are easily consumed.

Take care of your teeth:

  1. Brush teeth thoroughly twice a day.
  2. Reduce the amount of sugar-containing sticky foods.
  3. Rinse the mouth with water after consuming sugaring drinks and snacks.
  4. Reduce snacking, which helps reduce the production of acid in the mouth.
  5. Reduce the consumption of sugary beverages.
  6. Limit sugary foods to mealtimes.

Remember – whole fruit is not harmful for your teeth, but should be consumed mindfully. Fruit contains many phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals, which should be part of a healthful diet, but too much can still cause health issues – particularly in people who are pre-disposed to conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes.