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How to limit sugar from everyday foods

Man shopping and reading food labels

Avoiding sugar excess has been top of mind for quite a while now, but some high-sugar foods have crept under the radar. Could your favourites be among them, and how can you limit sugar from everyday foods?

Added sugar is extra sugar added to food or drink on top of naturally present sugars. It can hide in foods under various names. Some foods like fruit, plain milk and dairy yoghurt contain naturally-occurring sugars — but these aren’t a concern, unless consumed in excessive amounts.

Are some sugars better than others?

Rice malt syrup and coconut sugar are often lauded as healthy options. However, rice malt syrup has a glycaemic index (GI) that can spike sugar levels, which later leads to a slump in energy and makes us potentially more open to indulging our food cravings. Coconut sugar has a lower GI, but it is similar nutritionally to brown sugar.

How much sugar is too much?

The World Health Organization has recommended limiting added sugar intake to 24g a day — or just six teaspoons. When you check the labels, a good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that 4g sugar equals approximately one teaspoon.

How much sugar is in your sip (per 100ml)?

Coca-Cola = 10.6g
Coconut water and mango = 6.6g
Gatorade = 6g
Mango iced tea =  5.5g
Vitaminwater approx = 4.3g
Kombucha = 0.1–3.8g

Foods that can hide added sugar

Cereals

  • What to look for Often sugar is used in many different forms, so can appear several times on the label under different names — and it can add up to quite a lot in one serve!
  • How to avoid it Check ‘sugars’ on the nutrition information panel. Look for less than 15g per 100g without added fruit. Choose less than 25g per 100g with added fruit.

Muesli bars

  • What to look for ‘Yoghurt’-topped bars can tip your sugar intake over the top, with some brands as high as 25 per cent sugar!
  • How to avoid it Choose bars with less than 15g per 100g.

Quick oat porridge sachets

  • What to look for Some flavoured sachets contain as much as 26g sugar per 100g, compared to around 1g for traditional options.
  • How to avoid it Aim to choose unflavoured versions, and then add your own fruit.

Non-dairy milks

  • What to look for Don’t be fooled by the healthier-sounding sweeteners in these milks — such as organic brown rice syrup, coconut syrup, evaporated cane juice, or raw sugar. They are all forms of sugar.
  • How to avoid it Check the front of the pack for ‘unsweetened’.

Mayonnaise and dressings

  • What to look for Some low-fat mayonnaises can have more than 20 per cent sugar.
  • How to avoid it Swap for avocado, which has added nutritional benefits.

Sauces and marinades

  • What to look for Some tomato, barbecue and sweet chilli sauces, marinades and stir-through sauces, have up to 70 per cent sugar.
  • How to avoid it Use quantities sparingly, or make your own.

Kombucha and health drinks

  • What to look for To be low sugar, a drink must have less than 2.5g sugar per 100ml. A 330ml health drink could contain 2 teaspoons of sugar. (Some products use sweeteners instead.)
  • How to avoid it If you want the benefits of fermentation, consume fermented foods instead like miso, sauerkraut, kimchi or plain yoghurt.

10 other sugar names

  1. Barley malt
  2. Maltose
  3. Coconut syrup
  4. Dextrose
  5. Fructose
  6. Glucose
  7. Honey
  8. Malt
  9. Rice syrup
  10. Sucrose
First published: Oct 2020
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