How much sugar should I have each day?

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Making a relatively small lifestyle change – like reducing your daily sugar intake – can have multiple health benefits. From managing your weight to boosting your mood, here’s how eating less sugar can transform your health.

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A key part of any healthy diet is balance – but most of us eat too much sugar. And it’s hard not to because sugar is everywhere, hidden in the foods we eat every day.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), added sugars should make up no more than 10% of our daily food intake, and reducing this to 5% has significant health benefits.

What does too much sugar do to your body?

Sugar is found naturally in foods like milk, fruit and vegetables. But this type of sugar isn’t the problem. It’s consuming too many ‘free sugars’ that can cause health issues. Many products that seem relatively healthy, like sauces, soups and yoghurts contain a high amount of added sugars.

Latest research shows that a diet high in added sugars is linked to chronic diseases including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

What should my daily sugar intake be?

This is the recommended daily sugar allowance, according to NHS guidance:

  • Adults should have no more than 30g of added sugars a day (about 7 sugar cubes)
  • Children aged 7-10 should have no more than 24g of added sugars a day (6 sugar cubes)
  • Children aged 4-6 should have no more than 19g of added sugars a day (5 sugar cubes)
  • There are no guideline limits for children under the age of 4, but it’s recommended that they avoid drinks and food with added sugars

Reasons to cut down your daily sugar intake

Although there are a number of factors that contribute to poor health, high sugar consumption plays a big part. These are some of the biggest health incentives to eat less sugar.

Helps prevents obesity and diabetes

When you eat sugar, your body releases insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas that your body uses to process sugar. This leads to a rapid increase in blood glucose.

When this process is frequent and habitual, it can lead to insulin resistance, which increases your risk of type 2 diabetes. This process can also lead to an unhealthy BMI and weight gain around the abdomen (visceral fat). Weight around the middle is associated with an increased risk of illnesses like heart disease.

Protects against chronic inflammation

Sugar stimulates the production of fatty acids in the liver that may lead to inflammation.

Acute inflammation is part of the body’s natural defence mechanism against sickness or injury. Common signs include swelling, pain or a rash. But chronic (slow, long-term) inflammation is when this process continues inside the body. And this leads to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, allergies and arthritis.

Reducing your sugar intake lowers your body’s chances of developing this type of inflammation and improving your chances of better long-term health.

Helps keep your skin clearer

The inflammation and insulin resistance that can be caused from eating too much sugar can also have an adverse effect on our skin.

As too much insulin can lead to the production of androgens (male hormones), your skin then produces more sebum (oil), which can trigger a flare up of acne.

Improves your mood

While a sweet treat can give you an instant mood boost when you’re feeling low, eating too much sugar can affect your mood in the long-term.

In fact, research by the British Medical Journal shows that a diet high in sugar and processed foods can increase the risk of depression.

By swapping sugary snacks for more wholefoods and complex carbohydrates, you’re giving your body a more sustainable kind of energy. That means fewer cravings, or highs and lows throughout the day.

Looks after your teeth

Eating too many sugar-rich foods can cause serious tooth decay, especially in children. Tooth decay is now the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children.

While brushing your teeth reduces the impact of dental decay, reducing sugar is a far more effective way of preventing tooth decay.

How to cut down on sugar effectively in 5 steps

Taking the following steps might seem tricky. But remember, you don’t have to do them all at once. If it feels like too much, start with 1 or 2 of the following steps to gradually reduce your daily sugar intake.

1. Get to know food labels

  • High sugar foods contain more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g

  • Low sugar foods contain 5g or less of total sugars per 100g

  • Look out for hidden added sugars in pasta sauces, salad dressings, ready meals, yoghurts, takeaways, pizzas, savoury sauces and soups

2. Look out for sneaky sugar names

Many food labels list added sugars in different names – but they still have the same effects.

  • Cane juice, cane sugar or cane crystals
  • Honey
  • Dextrose or dextrin
  • Fructose or fruit juice concentrate
  • Glucose
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar (palm, raw, beet, brown, invert)
  • Syrup (corn, maple, rice, barley, malt)
  • Treacle
  • Xylose

3. Try simple sugar swaps

  • Instead of sugar-sweetened, fizzy drinks, opt for water with a squeeze of lemon or lime, or try adding sliced cucumber or strawberries for flavour
  • Swap sugary cereal for a bowl of unsweetened porridge oats with a handful of berries
  • If you usually eat flavoured yoghurt, plain Greek yoghurt with added fresh fruit is a great alternative

4. Regulate your blood sugar

  • Eating small amounts regularly can help keep your blood sugar levels stable
  • Choose complex carbohydrates (over refined ones) like brown rice, wholemeal or sourdough bread, quinoa and wholewheat pasta
  • Include some protein with every meal, like lean meat, fish, eggs, tofu, chickpeas or lentils

5. Choose healthier snacks

  • Have healthy snack foods ready for when you get hungry between meals so you’re not reaching for chocolate or sweets. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Raw vegetable crudités with hummus
  • A handful of berries
  • Slices of apple with a teaspoon of nut butter
  • 2 oatcakes with hummus or nut butter
  • Plain yoghurt with berries, nuts and seeds

Did you know?

  • A 500ml bottle of Coca-Cola contains 13.4 teaspoons of sugar
  • A typical 45g chocolate bar contains around 6 teaspoons of sugar
  • One glass of medium white wine contains nearly 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 100ml of sweetened fruit juice contains around 2.5 teaspoons of sugar
  • An average sized fruit yoghurt contains over 4 teaspoons of sugar

Speak to a GP about your daily sugar intake

If you want more advice on making healthier lifestyle choices and eating less sugar, chat to a GP.

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