What are the worst foods for sugar content? Are natural sugars healthy or is sugar in fruit bad for you? Does sugar cause weight gain? Does consuming sugar cause diabetes? Many myths and misconceptions exist surrounding the health effects of sugar. The effects of excess sugar consumption can be detrimental to your long-term health, energy levels and mood. Globally, 1 in 5 deaths are as a result of poor diet. Consequently, many people are trying to reduce sugar intake to avoid health problems caused by sugar. Not only will this article helps you achieve that, it also provides evidence-based answers to the above questions. Also, it includes a high sugar foods list along with some of the best low sugar foods to eat as an alternative. Find out what is the recommended daily allowance of sugar is and what the adverse effects of consuming too much sugar are.
Nutritional facts about sugar
What is sugar? Sugar is a naturally-occurring macronutrient present in carbohydrate foods, e.g. fruit, dairy and grains. It acts as a slow-releasing energy source (natural sugars) or fast-releasing energy source (refined sugars) for the body. Sugar is also added to many foods, particularly processed foods, which is known as added sugar. This type of sugar should be reduced in the diet.
Is natural sugar healthy? Consuming foods containing naturally occurring sugars isn’t necessarily unhealthy, unless you’re regularly consuming foods which have a high percentage of sugars present. It is, after all, still sugar! For example, while eating fruit is healthy, consuming too much fruit (especially fruit juices) could be detrimental to your dental health.
What is the recommended daily allowance of sugar? The World Health Organisation (WHO) have published guidelines stating that a person should obtain no more than 10% of their energy intake (in terms of calories) from free sugar. When put into context, if an average adult requires 1500-2000 calories per day, then those adults could stay within the 10% allowance by limiting sugar consumption to 10-14 teaspoons per day. It’s worth bearing in mind that these values are limits as opposed to targets! There are rumours that the WHO are seeking to slash this allowance in half to 5%, which would equate to 5-7 teaspoons of sugar per day.
One teaspoon of sugar equates to 4g sugar or 1 sugar cube.
In contrast to these figures, many experts and countries advocate a much lower sugar intake than the 10% recommended by the WHO. For examples, the UK government enforces the following more conservative approach, equating to 5% of energy coming from sugar:
- Adults should consume no more than 30g of added sugars per day (approximately 7 teaspoons)
- Children aged 7 to 10 should consume no more than 24g added sugars per day (6 teaspoons)
- Children aged 4 to 6 should consume no more than 19g added sugars per day (5 teaspoons)
In the USA, the American Hearth Association recommend the following:
- Men: no more than 36g of added sugar per day (9 teaspoons)
- Women: no more than 25g of added sugar per day (6 teaspoons)
If you are wondering what are alternatives to sugar, then check out are artificial sweeteners bad for you? Find out are artificial sweeteners safe and is stevia a healthy sugar subsititute.
Health effects of too much sugar
The effects of consuming too much sugar are widely documented and the role that added sugar contributes to this are not to be underestimated. Many of us know of a loved one or friend who has diabetes, and especially in terms of type 2 diabetes, it’s often one of the side effects of too much sugar and calories.
Weight gain: Several meta-analyses investigating the potential for sugary soft drinks to induce weight gain suggested positive correlations exist between them. A separate meta-analysis observed consumption of soft drinks to be a determinant of obesity. So is sugar really to blame here? Well, 3 recent systematic studies and meta-analyses reviewed set out to determine this. A number of randomised controlled trials investigating the effect of replacing sugar from beverages with other energy-equivalent macronutrients, which exhibited no effect on weight gain. This suggests that weight gain is a result of increased energy consumption (i.e. calories) and not generally sugar, in itself (just bear in mind that sugar is a source of energy/calories). Essentially, what’s being stated here is that it would be difficult to solely attribute sugar to weight gain when an individual is consuming other sources of calories as well. So regardless of where you obtain your calories from, the rule that weight gain equals calories in being greater than calories out will nevertheless apply.
Additional research has also pointed to the fact that weigh-gain and obesity are unlikely to be attributed exclusively to one nutrient. Instead, excess total calorie intake from a range of nutrients is likely to exhibit increased weigh-gain.
Diabetes: Featuring on the top 10 list of causes of deaths worldwide and with figures of people diagnosed expected to increase from 463 million in 2019 to 700 million by 2045 (approximately 50% increase), diabetes is one of the fastest growing diseases worldwide!
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease which occurs as a result of the body mistakenly attacking insulin-producing beta cells in the body. Type 2 diabetes occurs as a result of your body developing an insulin resistance and consequently, sugar builds up in your blood. Factors that can be attributed to developing type 2 diabetes include genetics and also lifestyle factors, for instance, carrying extra weight or obesity.
Surprisingly, limited evidence exists supporting the association between eating too much sugar and diabetes. Numerous reviews of individuals who substituted sucrose or fructose for a controlled diet in both randomised and non-randomised controlled trials have failed to identify adverse effects on risk factors for diabetes, including insulin response or fasting blood insulin. In summary, the study concluded that limited evidence exists that consumption of added sugar in normal forms and typical amounts for a human diet for the duration that randomised controlled trials were conducted didn’t lead to adverse health effects.
Heart disease: You may be wondering can sugar cause heart disease? A 15-year study observing the effects of a high-sugar diet on heart disease found that people whose sugar consumption accounted for 17% – 21% of their daily calorie intake were at a 38% greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. This is in stark contrast to people who only consume 8% of their calories from sugar. While the research regarding how sugar adversely affects health is unverified, there are a number of indirect correlations. For example, the liver metabolises excess sugar into fat, which over an extended time can result in development of excess fat and lead to fatty liver disease. This in turn elevates the potential for diabetes and subsequently heart disease.
High sugar foods list
Foods with high sugar content and foods with hidden sugars are almost omnipresent when you look down the aisles of a supermarket. Below are a list of common offenders when it comes to high added sugar levels:
- Low-fat yoghurt
- Fruit juice, e.g. orange juice
- Sweets, e.g. gummy sweets
- Sauces, e.g. ketchup, barbecue sauce
- Breakfast cereals
- Cereal bars
- Soda drinks
- Flavoured coffees
It can be difficult to cut out foods, especially ones that you love or find convenient. So instead of cutting them out, try replacing them with the below low sugar foods list! The food swaps are in order to ease the process of navigating the swaps, e.g. 1 = replace low-fat yoghurt with plain greek yoghurt.
No added sugar food list
- Plain greek yoghurt
- Peanut butter
- Coconut/almond/oat milk
- Whole fruit, e.g. strawberries, avocado
- Home-made sauces/seasonings
- Raw nuts, e.g. almonds, pistachios
- Sparkling water
- Unflavoured coffees, e.g. americano, coffee with no added syrups/cream/sugar
If you’re curious about other healthy foods swaps, head over to healthy alternatives to junk food – the ultimate cheat sheet for some simple foods swaps on sugar along with fat and salt!
- Natural sugars are healthier than refined sugars
- Discrepancies exist amongst countries and organisations for the recommended daily allowance of added sugar
- Swapping foods on the high sugar foods list with foods on the no added sugar list is a simply way to reduce sugar intake
- While not directly linked to sugar consumption, weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and cancer are all potential side effects of consuming too much sugar and calories
Have you a sugar addiction? Do you think you could swap out the high sugar foods list for the no added sugar? Do you think you eat too much sugar? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below.
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