Sugar Snub Food Guide By Claire White
If you’re reading this it’s because you take an interest in diet and health. You care about what you eat, what you put into your body, and how that affects your health. You’ll have seen that sugar is the latest demon in the food chain. Low fat didn’t do us and good – levels of obesity, as well as other markers of poor health, soared when guidelines were introduced to eat a low fat, high carbohydrate diet. Authority Nutrition summarised a few key studies nicely if you want some proof.
Sugar is simply a form of carbohydrate. The main difference between carbohydrate forms is how complicated or ‘complex’ their make-up; the more complex, the harder it is to break down, the more gradual the rise and fall of blood sugar and therefore also insulin levels which pull sugar from the blood and sent it to the muscles, liver, or fat cells. Slower rise and fall means steadier energy levels and less stress on the body to rebalance itself (the pathways involved are beyond the scope of this review), leading to improved insulin sensitivity (normal behaviour of insulin), and lowered risk of diabetes (irrespective of body weight – you can be diabetic and slim), heart disease, inflammation and more.
This introduction to sugar makes up only a small introduction to what is essentially a catalogue of thousands of branded and supermarket own foods, but is more than enough to tell you most of what you need to know about sugar. Claire’s motivation came from a breast cancer diagnosis in her 30’s so with her existing knowledge (she’s been a personal trainer and nutrition advisor for most of her life) she began researching into the connection between sugar and health. Her findings inspired Claire to share her knowledge and help other people make informed decisions when it comes to sugar. In the book you’ll find:
The directory itself uses the Government’s traffic light system – green for ‘good, eat often’, orange for ‘ok, eat sometimes’ and red for ‘not so healthy, eat sparingly’. At a glance it’s very easy to see which are the foods high in sugar (or fat, salt or calories) compared to others.
So if you’re used to buying a certain brand of muesli for example, it might help to know that an alternative brand is far lower in sugar. Think you’re being good with Tesco’s Low Fat Toffee Yoghurt? At 17g sugar per 100g you’d be better off with their Red Fruit Split yoghurt at 8.3g / 100g. And it’s not just ‘low fat’ products (that do have a reputation for increasing sugar to compensate for lack of taste) – Yeo Valley Organic Lemon Curd Yoghurt has almost twice the sugar per 100g as their Little Yeo’s kids yoghurts, at 16.9g compared to 9.2g.
The problem with looking at one ingredient or nutrition factor is it fails to take into account everything else about the product. Cornflakes are one of the lowest sugar cereals at around 3-4g per 100g, but the majority of the world’s corn is genetically modified, heavily sprayed with non-organic pesticides (unless certified organic), is one of the more common food sensitivities, and is a highly processed, refined, low fibre, High GI carbohydrate that creates a fast spike in blood sugar levels. Compare this to a nut, oat and seed filled granola such as Mornflake Oatbran Granola Nuts and Seeds. The sugar is higher at 13.8g per 100g, but the increase in fibre, fat, and protein mean the granola will give much longer lasting and sustained energy levels, with a smaller impact on blood sugar and insulin levels.
Sugar is just a type of carbohydrate, and I do think that without the total carbohydrate content, protein, and fibre content (three things which have a major impact on how a food is utilised by the body) available it’s hard to make a completely accurate judgement. Also ‘sugar’ does not discriminate between added and naturally occurring sugars – the lactose in organic, plain Greek yoghurt cannot be compares to the added processed sugar in a fruit yoghurt, even if the total is lower in the fruit pot. Claire agrees with me on this – all her meal suggestions are comprised of natural, whole foods that are naturally lower in sugar than processed ones.
Claire lists a handy reference of all the various names that sugar comes under, and trust me it’s a bigger list than you thought. Manufacturers are smart and know we don’t like the word ‘sugar’, so they call it something else instead. However also included in the list are artificial sweeteners and the natural plant sweetener stevia, and this is not completely accurate as these are not ‘sugars’. Artificial sweeteners are by no means health foods but as some of the most studies ingredients in food manufacturing they’re definitely the far better of two evils. There’s actually more research going into how artificial sweeteners negatively affect gut bacteria, so if you suffer from IBS this could be a reason to stay away from them. Stevia I have not much issue with for the occasional sweet hit – it does not affect blood sugar and appears to have no other health consequences and may even have benefits such as reducing blood pressure. I use it often in baking and am personally not concerned about consuming it.
If you’ve never done a reality check on your fridge and cupboards then now might be as good a time as ever to check the nutrition in what you eat and compare it to alternative products in Sugar Snub. Going completely sugar free is unrealistic if you take into account fruit and dairy (both very healthy foods in most cases) but lowering intake of added sugars can benefit almost everyone.*
*I say almost, because people taking part in regular strenuous and endurance based performance sports such as long distance running or cycling, or competitive sports, will in almost all cases improve their performance with a well-planned fuelling and refuelling nutrition plan that requires sugar and carbohydrates in various forms, but that’s a separate topic entirely.
I’d love to see a digital version (perhaps an app?) of Sugar Snub – brands change their ingredients regularly so it would be a way of keeping the lists up to date.