We’re all aware that sugar isn’t good for us. But it’s often found in unexpected places – and in large quantities, making it harder to make healthy choices.
Banishing all sugar is not realistic, or indeed much fun. The occasional treat is pretty fundamental, however, it’s important to know when you’re splurging so that you can take control of your diet, and understand what’s in the foods you’re using to fuel your body.
To avoid overeating high sugar foods, leading registered nutritionist Sarah Flower, shares her top tips with Bazaar.
1. Check the sugar percentage of everything you eat—you’ll be surprised
“When you look at labels, always check the nutrition values per 100g, as this will give you the percentage of each food group. So, if there is 45g of sugar per 100g, the food is 45 per cent sugar (sounds super obvious, but it’s easy to forget it’s that simple). This is the best way to compare foods because most products have totally different serving sizes and it means you are comparing all your foods like for like.”
2. Note that the NHS defines ‘high sugar’ as foods that contain 22.5g of sugar per 100g
“This is a really good rough guide to remember when checking those labels. Many snack bars/balls are a staggering 40 per cent-plus sugar! Knowing this means you can choose your treats wisely and you’ll be aware when you’re consuming so called ‘healthy’ foods that are actually packed with sugar.”
3. When ‘energy’ is used the name of a product, it’s usually code for ‘high in sugar’
“Energy bars were originally designed to eat immediately before high impact exercise for a surge of energy, when your body would be using up glucose quickly. But if you’re eating these at other times (like while sitting in your office or relaxing on the coach), you’ll just get be consuming a lot of extra sugar, or carbs, that your body can’t use. Once your body maxes out its carb stores, your body will store the excess as fat. This sugary hit will also send your blood sugar soaring, then crashing, making you feel worse off than before.”
4. Dates are super high in sugar, not a superfood
“Yes, they’re natural, and they contain fibre and some nutrients, but they’re still 65-to-80 per cent sugar (depending on the variety). That means that ‘healthy’ date-based ball is probably close to half sugar.
“Instead, switch from date-based snacks to those sweetened with fruits with a low glycaemic load such as cherries, berries, and dried plums. Dried plums contain over 40 per cent less sugar than dates, they are packed with antioxidants, and they provide slow releasing energy. Try Nibble Protein Bites and Nibble Brownie Bites which taste like treats, but are very low in sugar and still satiating.”
5. Don’t get conned by ‘no refined sugar’ and ‘no added sugar’ claims – they can be misleading
“Although whole food sources of sweetness are usually preferable to most refined sugars, because they add more nutrients and fibre (which slows down the breakdown), it doesn’t mean that the sugar doesn’t count. If a food is high in sugar, it’s high in sugar. Many ‘no added sugar’ snack bars and balls are higher in sugar than conventional chocolate bars. Also, many brands use ‘no added sugar’ claims very literally to mean that they just haven’t added table sugar– i.e. they are still adding sweeteners like agave.”
6. Question ‘all natural’ marketing claims, natural doesn’t necessarily equate to healthy
“Without a doubt, eat ‘all-natural’ foods, but don’t assume that means they are healthy—particularly with processed snacks. Just because those millionaire bars are made with natural ingredients, doesn’t make them intrinsically healthy. Remember, the ingredients you use to bake at home are usually all-natural, but you’d never mistake a cake as being healthy. After all, table sugar is made from natural sugar cane (or beets).”
7. First check the amount of sugar used, then the type of sugar
“The amount of sugar is the first priority, next is the type of sugar—i.e. how quickly that sugar will break down and enter your blood stream. Choose low Glycaemic Index (GI) options that break down more slowly, offering a host of benefits from providing sustained energy to improving mood and concentration. The Glycaemic Index rates foods from 1-to-100, with pure glucose topping the scale at 100 and table sugar coming in at around 60-70. The higher the GI number the quicker your body breaks it down, creating a sugar rush and then a subsequent crash. Many leading snack bars/balls are made with brown rice syrup which sounds healthy, but it has a GI of 98, which can cause a serious sugar rush. Many popular nut bars are also wrapped in pure glucose syrup.”
From Harper’s Bazaar UK