Cutting sugar is the ultimate trend in the ‘nutrition’ world at the moment. But why? And what are we in Britain doing about it? And how can you at home do something about it?
The link between sugar and obesity:
The British Medical Journal published a systematic review and meta-analysis (thats a big review of lots of different studies!) in 2013 looking at the association between dietary sugar and body weight in both adults and children. Simply put, that means combining the results of many studies over different time periods, places and population groups and looking at the overall results. 68 studies were looked at, showing:
- Adults with ad libitum diets (that is, with no strict control of food intake), reduced sugar in the diet with a decrease in body weight of 0.80 kg. This compared to iincreased sugar intake associated with a comparable weight increase of 0.75 kg. If the energy from sugars was exchanged with other carbohydrates, there was no change in body weight.
- Studies in children involving dietary advice to reduce sugar intake had low participant compliance to dietary advice and no overall change in body weight. No surprise there; if people don’t comply then their weight doesn’t change. However, children with a higher intake of sugar-sweetened beverages after 1 year were more likely to be overweight or obese compared with children with the lowest intakes.
Enough of the scientific garble. What does this show us? Firstly, sugar in the diet is a determinant of body weight in adults. Secondly, the change in body weight is likely due to a lower total calorie intake in people with low sugar diets, as swapping sugar for other carbohydrates with the same calorie content does not reduce body weight. Thirdly, sugar sweetened beverages in children should be limited due to their effect on body weight. And last, but by all means not least, for the weight of our children to be affected by dietary advice to eat less sugar, it needs to be followed! To me, that means we need to get better at finding low sugar alternatives that kids like and helping them (and in my view adults too although this is not based on evidence from the study!) ENJOY low sugar dietary habits.
The change in guidelines for carbohydrate and sugar consumption in the UK:
So recently SACN (The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition) published recommendations which were accepted by the Department of Health regarding carbohydrate, sugar and fibre intakes. This means that the UK has new, evidence-based guidelines for sugar intake. Pretty exciting stuff!
- Carbohydrates should make up 50% of the total dietary energy. Before it was recommended that carbs should make up 40% of the total dietary energy. Bare in mind, this is to maintain a healthy weight, not for weight loss or gain.
- No more than 5% of total dietary energy should come from free sugars (that basically means sugars that are added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey syrups and unsweetened fruit juices). Before the recommendation was no more than 10%; halving the recommendation is a very big change! Free sugars do not include fruit.
- Consumption of sugars-sweetened beverages should be minimised, in both children and adults
- Fibre intake should be approximately 30g per day for those 16 years+. This is up from a previous recommendation of 18g per day – another huge change!
How can you reduce your sugar intake?
- The first big step is to cut out sugar sweetened beverages (squash, juice ‘drinks,’ sugar-sweetened carbonated drinks). These can be replaced by sugar free alternatives. There is a lot of hype in the media around the evils of sweeteners, but the evidence just really isn’t there when you compare them to sugar.
- Find alternative snacks. Try downloading the ‘snack swapper’ app from Change4Life; particularly handy if you have kids!
- Read your food labels! In the UK a lot of pre-prepared food has front-of-pack ‘traffic light’ labelling. Learn to read it and you could save yourself a lot of time in the supermarket and improve your health.
- Don’t be fooled by health ‘gurus’ and ‘bloggers’ who tell you to fill up on honey, molasses or maple syrup. They are just the same as sugar with a different name!
A delicious, sugar-free jam alternative:
Everyone (and especially kids!) love jam, and backberry chia jam is totally delicious! Every bit as good as jam, even easier to make and keeps for a few weeks in the fridge. I was lucky enough to make this with blackberries I picked from the garden, making it extra delicious. But any other berry would do; shop-bought, fresh or frozen!
- 500g blackberries
- 3 tablespoons chia seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a small saucepan, gently heat the blackberries for five minutes. When soft, mash them with a fork or potato masher.
- Add the vanilla extract and chia seeds, stir over the heat for a further few minutes.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and tip the jam into a sterilised jar.
Find out more:
Te Morenga, L., Mallard, S., Mann, J. (2013). Dietary sugars and body weight: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and cohort studies. BMJ; 346.