Episode 8: The Truth About Sugar

What is sugar? Sugar is a carbohydrate.

Why do we use sugar? Sugar provides a source of energy. The body breaks down carbohydrates into a simple sugar – glucose – which is absorbed into the blood. In fact, sugar provides the same amount of energy as carbohydrates in breads, rice and pasta.  

Sugar is often added to foods to provide taste but can also be used to provide colour and thickness. Sugar can also be used as a preservative.

What foods contain sugar? Many natural foods like fruit and dairy products contain sugar. Many processed foods contain high levels of refined sugar – that is sugar that fails to provide any other nutrition.

How much sugar is OK? There is not a definitive answer. The World Health Organisation prompted extensive debate when it recommended sugar should make up no more than 10% of a healthy diet. Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council reports most people should be able to get 15-20% of their energy from sugars.

According to Choice Magazine - the NHMRC recommendation means:

1.    An average man (aged between 30-60, and weighing about 80 kilograms) can consume 24 – 32 teaspoons of sugar a day.
2.    An average woman (aged between 30-60, and weighing about 65 kilograms) can consume 19-25 teaspoons of sugar a day.

To work out how much sugar you are eating – divide the grams of sugars listed on the label by four. For example, 12g sugar equals 3 teaspoons.

And when looking at food labels, remember all of the following are also sugars:

Glucose Syrup    
Fruit Juice Concentrate
Corn Syrup
Golden Syrup

Beware sugary drinks, confectionary, cakes, biscuits and yoghurt!

Most of the sugar we consume is already in food when we buy it.

Choice Magazine says 80% of the sugars we eat are in our food before we take it home.

Soft drinks, fruit drinks and sports drinks, confectionary and cakes are all high in sugar and often have little nutritious value.

Did you know a can of Coke contains 10 teaspoons of sugar? Or that one cup of fresh orange juice (squeezed from five oranges) contains 9 teaspoons of sugar?

Some yoghurt also contains very high levels of sugar.

Sugar and the Glycaemic Index (GI)

Some sugars are better than others.

The Glycaemic Index measures how the sugars in different foods affect blood glucose.

Put simply – for most people – the lower the number the better.

Low GI foods see blood glucose levels rise and fall gradually, whereas high GI foods see blood glucose levels rise rapidly before crashing sharply.

The Glycaemic Index:

Classification GI Range Examples
Low GI 55 or less most fruit and vegetables (except potatoes, watermelon), grainy breads, pasta, legumes/pulses, milk, products extremely low in carbohydrates (fish, eggs, meat, some cheeses, nuts, oils), brown rice
Medium GI 56- 69 whole wheat products, basmati rice, sweet potato, table sugar, most white rices (e.g., jasmine),
High GI 70 and above corn flakes, baked potato, watermelon, croissant, white bread, extruded cereals (e.g., Rice Krispies), straight glucose (100)

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