Should I be sugar free?

You don’t have to eat a sugar free diet to be healthy – actually if you did, it would be a very limited diet!  Sugar is naturally present in a huge amount of foods that have great benefits for your health.   But it is a good idea to limit the amount of added sugar you eat.  The World Health Organisation recommends that for optimal health you should keep your intake of free sugars to less than 5% of your total energy intake.  What does that mean???

Free sugars are defined as sugars that are added to food/drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer plus naturally occurring sugars found syrups, honey and fruit juices.  It doesn’t include the sugar naturally present in fruit, milk, vegetables and grains.

How much is okay?

Every few years, surveys are done to investigate the eating patterns of NZers.  At the last national survey, adult men ate on average around 10 400kJ, adult women 7500kJ.  Based on these figures, adult men should be eating less than 7 ½ teaspoons of free sugars per day and women less than 5 ½ teaspoons.  In that same survey, men were eating closer to 14 teaspoons and women 10 ½ teaspoons of sucrose alone, which is only one form of free sugars.  So clearly, on average we Kiwis are eating too much sugar.  But to fix the problem doesn’t mean we have to throw it all out – remember how we tried that with fat in foods in the 80s and 90s and look how that turned out!

What does that look like?

So to make things meaningful, here’s an example of a woman’s diet keeping to the recommended amount of less than 5 1/2 teaspoons of added sugar.

Breakfast:  Home made muesli (wholegrain oats, dried coconut, oil, maple syrup, seeds, nuts) = 1tsp added sugar

Natural yoghurt, fresh fruit

Morning tea:  Coffee with milk

Lunch:  Kumara and spinach salad with boiled eggs and vinaigrette dressing

Afternoon tea:  Grainy Crackers with hummus and tomato, an apple

Dinner:  Marinated chicken (chicken, soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger, chilli) = 1tsp added sugar

Rice and vegetables

Supper snack: 25g milk chocolate = 3 ½ tsp added sugar

Naturally, a healthy lifestyle also includes regular physical activity but please don’t feel you have to give up all sugar – fine if you want to, but it’s not a health imperative.  As you can see, the added sugar in this diet comes from chocolate, muesli and marinade on the chicken but it’s a highly nutritious diet with plenty of nutrients and fibre to balance out the added sugar.    And let’s face it, it would taste pretty delicious and that’s an important part of any eating pattern!