If you've found the latest advice confusing, you're not alone. Our nutritionist sifts through the evidence to explain what you need to know about sugar.
Current recommendations state that added sugar should make up no more than 5% of our daily calorie intake. We asked nutritionist Marilyn Glenville to shed some light on the sugar debate...
Q: How much sugar a day is a safe amount?
A: The current World Health Organisation guidelines concerning added sugar now recommend no more than seven teaspoons or cubes (30g) a day. A single teaspoon of sugar is roughly 4g, so you can see how easy it is to reach that amount.
Food packaging doesn’t make it easy to determine how much refined sugar there is in something, so it’s tricky for the consumer to calculate how much they’re eating. Make sure you check the ingredient list and look out for sugar in all its different ‘ose’ guises. An investigation in 2010 actually found some cereals contained as much sugar as a doughnut, so it really is worth paying attention to the different brands we buy.
Q: How many pieces of fruit is it advisable to have a day?
A: Eating two to three pieces of fruit a day is fine, though try to have some nuts and seeds alongside your fruit. The protein and fat slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and provides longer lasting energy.
Vegetables have very good nutritional value and don’t affect blood sugar levels as much as fruit. However, for someone trying to cut back on refined sugars, fruit is great for weaning yourself off sugary snacks. Fruit juice is different as all the fibre is lost during processing, so the sugar is very rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.
Certain fruits like apples and berries raise blood sugar less than the tropical ones, such as mangoes and pineapple, which have a naturally higher fruit sugar content. The sugar content in dried fruit is also more concentrated because of the absence of water.
Q: Is there an ideal number of fruit and veg that you’d recommend we eat each day?
A: In certain countries the amount is actually split out into five veg and two fruit – the ideal ratio in my opinion – though the more vegetables the better! Current NHS guidelines are to aim for five-a-day.
Q: Are there any short-term signs that you’ve been eating too much sugar?
A: If you’ve been eating too much sugar there are a few things to look out for. Low blood sugar is when you’ll experience withdrawal-like symptoms and you may experience dizziness, irritability, light-headedness, tension and anxiety. This is how the sugar cycle is perpetuated, as you’ll then crave something sweet to help you feel better.
The way to avoid this is to eat little and often. Avoid sugary quick fixes and opt for low-GI foods. Try to keep blood sugar steady all day by eating something small every three hours or so.
Q: What are your top three tips for sugar and diet?
A: My three top tips would be...
1) Read the ingredient part of labels and look for all forms of sugar.
3) Where possible, eat starchy carbohydrates with a protein because it will lower the GI of that food, plus sustain energy and stop cravings.
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This article was last reviewed on 26 June 2019 by Kerry Torrens.
Dr Marilyn Glenville is a leading nutritionist specialising in women’s health. She is the former President of the Food and Health Forum at the Royal Society of Medicine, a registered nutritionist, psychologist, author and popular broadcaster. Visit her website and events page to find out more.
A qualified nutritionist (MBANT), Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).
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