If put to the test at a dinner party, most of us would be able to join in a conversation about the nation’s obesity problem or addiction to sugar. It’s not a new topic. And we’ve all seen countless reports about it, featuring anonymous fat bodies chowing down on burgers on the television.
But if we’re all aware that Australia has a sugar problem, why are we still battling it? Perhaps it’s because we can’t literally see the white grains of sugar in our foods or we just aren’t – personally – doing anything to change our own eating habits?
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average Australian consumes 60 grams of free sugars per day – around 14 teaspoons of white sugar. That’s well over and above the World Health Organisation's (WHO) recommended healthy level of six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons of sugar for men each day.
If you think that’s controversial, the ABS says our teenage males consume an average of 92 grams of sugar (over 21 teaspoons) each day, on average.
The top 10 per cent of teenage male sugar consumers, however, takes the cake, regularly consuming at least 160 grams (or 38 teaspoons) of free sugars per day.
...the average Australian consumes 60 grams of free sugars per day – around 14 teaspoons of white sugar.
So how do we change our ways?
Angela Emmerton - clinical nutritionist and ambassador of ‘That Sugar Film’ (available via SBS On Demand right now) - provides us with some relief. She explains to SBS that we don’t all have to cut sugar from our diets. All we have to do is reduce how much we have each day, making simple lifestyle and dietary changes.
“It’s not about demonising sugar,” explains Emmerton. “It’s not about giving it all up either. It’s about cutting back.”
Here are five tips to help you reduce your sugar intake.
1. Eat your fruit don’t drink it
Fruit is high in nutrients but it’s also high in the naturally occurring sugar, fructose.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines advises that anyone over the age of 12 years old should only have two serves of fruit a day (this doesn’t apply to women who are breastfeeding). One standard serve of fruit is equal to around 150 grams. That’s one medium apple or two small plums.
If you juice your fruit, it’s likely that you’ll consume a lot more serves than if you were to eat it whole, purely because juicing eliminates the pulp which contains fibre (and fibre makes you feel fuller for longer). It’s also pretty likely that your fruit juice will be high in sugar.
According to the nutrition information for Boost, available online, an original 610ml sized juice can contain anywhere between 25-85 grams of sugar. Therefore, one juice, depending on the type you buy, will contain between 6.25 and 21.25 (more or less) teaspoons of sugar.
So if you want to cut back your sugar intake, cutting down on your fruit juice consumption is a good place to start.
2. Swap soft drink for sparkling mineral water or kombucha
This is not breaking news: soft drinks and energy drinks are full of sugar. But if you regularly drink either of these, you can easily and quickly drop the amount of sugar in your diet by cutting back or eliminating these drinks.
Stick to water if you’re thirsty. If you’re not a fan of still H20, why not opt for sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon and a sprig of mint instead? Or, try kombucha, a fermented drink that is good for your gut health. Emmerton adds that you should check the sugar content of kombucha bottles, as sugar levels vary brand-to-brand.
“It’s not about demonising sugar. It’s not about giving it all up either. It’s about cutting back.”
3. Shop smarter
The government site, Eat for Health, offers a few helpful tips to help you make healthier choices at the supermarket.
These include writing a shopping list (and sticking to it); only shopping once a week when there is time and only after you have eaten (this helps to avoid temptation); reading the nutritional labels on the back of food products to be aware of their sugar contents; limiting the amount of junk or frozen fried foods you buy.
4. Rethink your hot drink habits
If you have sugar in your tea or coffee, then you’ve just scored one extra way to eliminate more sugar from your diet.
Every teaspoon of sugar adds up, so if you have two cups of coffee a day with two teaspoons of sugar in each, that’s four teaspoons of sugar alone.
Reduce the amount you put in your hot brew, one teaspoon at a time. Or, if you’re up for the challenge, eliminate it from your hot beverage totally.
5. Swap processed foods for home-made meals
“Stay away from processed foods as much as possible,” says Emmerton.
The fact is a lot of the sugar we ingest comes from processed foods we buy outside the home or when we eat something that comes out of a packet or can.
According to a 2016 journal study, ‘ultra-processed’ foods make up more than half of all the calories consumed in the US diet. They also contribute nearly 90 per cent of all added sugar intake.
Meanwhile, in Australia, 81 per cent of the free sugars we consume come from the energy-dense, nutrient-poor ‘discretionary’ foods and beverages, the ABS states. These are optional foods that aren’t necessary to our diet that doesn’t fit into the five food groups, like alcohol and other foods/drinks containing high amounts of saturated fat or added sugars.
So if you can, cook something simple at home, from scratch, rather than eating out of a packet. Use the flavours of herbs and spices to provide taste to your meals, and sweeter vegetables like carrots or capsicums to provide a natural sweetness rather than adding sugar yourself.
If you do use any processed products as part of a home-cooked meal, try to ensure that you check the nutritional labels on the back to calculate a product’s sugar content.
That Sugar Film tells the story of Damon Gameau’s journey to discover the bitter truth about sugar. Watch the documentary on SBS On Demand right here: