Guide To Your Daily Sugar Intake
Sugar has become a rather complicated topic over the years and has overtaken fat as the nutrient to avoid. Let’s explore the reasons why sugar has gotten a bad rep, the different types of sugar, and the effects of sugar on the body.
- What Is Sugar?
- What Are The Main Types Of Sugars?
- How Does Sugar Affect Our Body?
- Our Daily Sugar Intake
- Fruits High In Sugar
- How To Control Your Sugar Intake
What Is Sugar?
Sugar is a water-soluble carbohydrate, naturally sweet in taste. ‘Simple’ sugars, also known as monosaccharides, don’t require breakdown in the gut, so can be used as a quick energy source. The three monosaccharides that occur naturally are glucose, fructose and galactose.
If two of these sugars are found together, these are known as a disaccharide – this is usually glucose in combination with either fructose or galactose. A combination of more than two sugars is a polysaccharide and is a more complex type of carbohydrate.
The amount of sugar contained in a food can be measured using the glycaemic index; high GI foods can cause a rapid increase in sugar levels within the bloodstream, whilst low GI foods tend to lead to a more gradual rise. It is important to note that high GI does not equal unhealthy, as some high GI foods may contain additional nutrients or benefits.
What Are The Main Types Of Sugars?
Glucose is found pretty much everywhere and anywhere! Any foods that contain carbohydrates are sources of glucose. This includes healthy carbohydrates such as wholegrains, beans and legumes, vegetables, and plant-based milks.
Fructose is mostly found in fresh fruits and has a sweeter taste compared to glucose. Galactose is found in dairy products, usually as combine with glucose to form the disaccharide lactose. A combination of glucose and fructose make up sucrose, whilst glucose paired with glucose makes up the disaccharide maltose.
It’s important to remember that not all sugar is created equal! Fruit sugars, such as fructose, can be easily used as an energy source. This usually means these are high glycaemic index foods, causing a subsequent rise in glucose levels within the blood.
However, fructose is usually paired with fibre in whole foods such as apples, pears and bananas. Fibre is important for reducing the GI content of food and creates a slower-release form of energy.
Foods that contain polysaccharides are usually high GI foods, but without the added benefit of fibre. These tend to be disaccharide or polysaccharide containing foods. Examples include maple syrup, chocolate, and starchy foods (bread, pasta, white rice). As mentioned already, these foods may contain other benefits – e.g. dark chocolate contains flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that can be used to fight inflammation in the body.
How Does Sugar Affect Our Body?
Complex sugars including polysaccharides and disaccharides require a greater level of processing in the body so they can be used as an energy source. Whilst this may seem like a good thing, these energy converting mechanisms increase the number of sugar molecules available for storage.
Sugar molecules can be stored in muscles as reserve energy storage. Alternatively, sugar can be converted to fatty acids, which become stored within fat cells. In comparison, simple monosaccharide sugars don’t require this processing, so are less likely to be used as storage.
High intakes of complex sugars have been linked to negative gut health; diets high in sugar and low in fibre can disrupt the gut microbiome, leading to increased inflammation within the body. This inflammation may manifest as symptoms of low-grade chronic inflammation (non-specific changes including tiredness, change in bowel habit, difficulty concentrating), or as an exacerbation of existing diseases.
It is important to remember that much of the research involving sugar is looking at sugar in fizzy drinks, highly processed foods, and foods that contain a high proportion of both fat and sugar.
Our Daily Sugar Intake
It is recommended that ‘free sugar’ makes up no more than 5% of daily caloric intake; free sugars are those sugars that are added to food and drink. This description also includes honey, syrups (e.g. maple syrup), and sugars found in fruit juices. Sugars found in whole fruits do not fall into the category of free sugars, as they are paired with fibre.
For adults, this means intake is suggested to be 30g or less of free sugars a day – this is about two tablespoons of sugar.
Children aged 7-10 years should 24g or less of free sugars a day, whilst children aged 4-6 should have less than 19g per day. Any children younger than 4 years should avoid sugar-sweetened drinks or food containing added sugars.