Did you know that the average Australian consumes 27 teaspoons of total sugars (added and naturally occurring sugar) per day? (1) The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation for sugar intake is less than 10% of our total daily energy intake or approximately 6 teaspoons of sugar per day for normal weight adults (Note: 1 teaspoon is equivalent to ~4g sugar).
It gets worse. Australian teenage boys are consuming more than 10 kg of total sugars per year from soft drinks alone. And overall, discretionary foods which include biscuits, cakes, soft drinks and confectionery account for 81% of the total sugars we consume and just over half of these sugars are from beverages. This information recently prompted the Australian Government to investigate the potential benefit of a health levy on sugar-sweetened beverages.
Couple this information with recent research showing that 9 out of 10 Australian’s don’t eat the recommended servings of vegetables each day, and less than half of us eat enough fruit (2); and it could appear that we have a health crisis on our hands. (Note: The naturally occurring sugar found in intact fruit and vegetables is excluded from the new guidelines and shouldn’t be counted towards your daily tally).
So why do we seek sweet foods in the first place? The answer could lie in your hormones and instinctive responses to sugar. Your brain responds to sugar by flooding the body with the feel-good chemicals dopamine and serotonin. This deluge of happy hormones creates a rewarding effect, linking sugary foods with feelings of happiness and contentment. Couple this with your ancestor-driven, survival instinct to search for sugar, fat and protein and it becomes clear why it is difficult to say no to the ‘sweet stuff’.
And just when you thought you could celebrate ‘quitting sugar’ you find out that your ‘sugar free’ recipes and purchases contain sugar disguised in other forms. These include:
- Concentrated fruit juice
- Corn syrup
- Golden syrup
- Maple syrup
- Raw sugar
- Cane sugar
- Brown sugar
- Coconut sugar
- Agave nectar
- Blackstrap molasses
- Rice syrup / rice malt syrup
- Barley malt
Becoming more aware when you are in the supermarket can be a great place to start. Fresh is best but when reading labels on processed foods, you not only need to look for the hidden sources of sugar and the sugar content but the big picture. This means taking energy, fat and salt into consideration as well. Aim for the following amounts:
Now this doesn't mean that you can never eat a chocolate bar again. Sometimes you may just want to eat something sweet - and that's okay. Try to maximise flavour to get the biggest bang for your buck. For example, dark chocolate has a stronger flavour than milk chocolate, so you can satisfy your sweet tooth with a small portion. Watching your portion sizes of desserts can help with weight control. Make choices that are satisfying in small amounts.
Choose naturally sweet options. To satisfy your sweet tooth without added sugar and calories, choose fresh fruit for a snack or dessert. Or, try grilled pineapple slices, a baked apple, a frozen banana, or frozen grapes.
Plan your meals and snacks. Eating regular meals and snacks can help you feel satisfied throughout the day. A balanced meal plan can also help keep you from being tempted by less healthy foods and sugar-laden snacks.
1. 2012 Sugar Consumption Report
2. National Health Survey (2014-2015) ABS