Simple tweaks in recipes could save you copious teaspoons of sugar per day.
Adults in the UK are consuming more than double the recommended amount of sugar, according to Public Health England.
But our favourite sugary treats aside, sugars are often hidden in surprising foods such as pasta sauces and soups.
Nutritionist Angela Dowden, spear-heading Cancer Research UK’s Sugar Free February, reveals how you can cut back while still enjoying a tasty diet.
Nutritionist Angela Dowden, spear-heading Cancer Research UK’s Sugar Free February, reveals how you can cut back on sugar in foods such as hot chocolate
Added sugars – different to natural sugars in foods such as fruit or milk – should make up no more than five per cent of calorie intake per day.
This equates to around 30g or seven cubes of sugar a day in line with government advice.
‘Sugar can easily tally up in our diets as many of our favourite foods contain a surprising amount of hidden sugar,’ Ms Dowden said.
HOW MUCH SUGAR IS TOO MUCH?
The amount of sugar a person should eat in a day depends on how old they are.
Children aged four to six years old should be limited to a maximum of 19 grams per day.
Seven to 10-year-olds should have no more than 24 grams, and children aged 11 and over should have 30g or less.
Popular snacks contain a surprising amount of sugar and even a single can of Coca Cola (35g of sugar) or one Mars bar (33g) contains more than the maximum amount of sugar a child should have over a whole day.
A bowl of Frosties contains 24g of sugar, meaning a 10-year-old who has Frosties for breakfast has probably reached their limit for the day before they even leave the house.
Children who eat too much sugar risk damaging their teeth, putting on fat and becoming overweight, and getting type 2 diabetes which increases the risk of heart disease and cancer.
‘Reducing your sugar intake can help you to manage your weight by helping to remove ’empty calories’ from the diet – it’s also much better for your teeth.’
As a general rule with sweetners, check labels to see how its sweetness compares with sugar – 1:1 sweetener has equal sweetness by volume (spoon for spoon) as sugar. 1:2 sweetener has twice as much sweetness per volume as sugar.
1. Hot chocolate
Save 13.8g sugars and 147 calories per mug
Before: 23g sugar, 263 calories
A standard mug of hot drinking chocolate is made with 18g drinking chocolate and 200ml of semi skimmed milk.
After: 9.2g sugar, 116 calories
Put one teaspoon (4g) of good quality cocoa in a mug and whisk in 200ml of boiling semi-skimmed milk. Stir in one or two teaspoons of 1:1 low calorie sweetener (or 1-2 sweetener tablets, or a squirt of liquid sweetener) to taste.
Save 6.5g sugars and 0 calories per serving
Before: 7.1g sugar, 258 calories
50g serving bought honey and nut granola
After: 0.6g sugar, 258 calories
To make low-sugar granola – stir one tablespoon rapeseed or sunflower oil through 50g mixed nuts and seeds and 200g rolled oats. You can add in three tablespoons of 1:1 sweetener if you want.
Mix in two egg whites that have been whipped into very stiff peaks. Spread out onto an oil baking sheet and cook at 170 (gas mark 3-4) until crisp. Makes five servings.
Save 1 and a half teaspoons of sugar per serving of granola by making your own
Save 4.7g sugars and 12 calories per serving
Before: 6.8g sugar, 30 calories
2tbsps (30g) shop bought ketchup
After: 2.1g sugar, 18 calories
Squeeze a 150g tube of tomato paste into a bowl and mix in five tablespoons of water, two tablespoons of cider (or white wine) vinegar and one and a half tablespoons 1:1 low calorie sweetener. Stir in a pinch of garlic powder, salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Keeps refrigerated in a jar for up to two weeks.
4. Tomato soup
Save 7g sugar and 81 calories per serving
Soup bought in the shop is an example of where sugars in the diet can be hidden
Before: 19g sugar, 204 calories
400g can of cream of tomato soup
After: 12g sugar, 123 calories
To make a bowl of homemade soup – sweat a small chopped onion in a brush of oil, add 100g finely diced potato and cook gently for ten minutes.
Add a can of tomatoes, 300ml water, two teaspoons of tomato puree and a handful of basil. Simmer until the potato is soft; blend. Makes two servings.
5. Apple crumble
Save 25g sugar and 101 calories per serving
Before: 35g sugar, 459 calories
A bowl (180g) of crumble (stewed apples sweetened with sugar; traditional flour, butter and sugar topping)
After: 10g sugar, 358 calories
Simmer six peeled and chopped large Bramley apples in a splash of water with three tablespoons of 1:2 sweetener until softened. Meanwhile place 350g plain flour in a bowl with ten tablespoons of 1:2 sweetener and rub in 175g cubed chilled margarine until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Spoon the apple into an ovenproof dish, cover with the crumble and cook in a medium oven until the topping is golden. Makes eight servings.
Apple crumble is just as sweet with Ms Dowden’s recipe using sweetener
6. Honey roasted veg
Save 5g sugar and 21 calories per serving
Before: 17g sugar, 153 calories
WHAT ARE THE LINKS BETWEEN SUGAR AND CANCER?
Cutting out sugar doesn’t help treat cancer, and sugar doesn’t directly cause cancer.
However, there are indirect links between the two.
Eating lots of sugar over time can cause you to gain weight, and scientific evidence shows that being overweight or obese increases the risk of 13 different types of cancer, including, breast, bowel, oesophageal and pancreatic tumours, according to Cancer Research UK.
Obesity is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking.
Almost three quarters (72 per cent) of the UK population will be overweight or obese by 2035, meaning obesity could cause a further 670,000 cases of cancer in the UK over the next 20 years.
It’s not clear how carrying extra weight causes cells to become cancerous, but it’s likely down to the chemical signals that are released from the extra body fat.
Some body fat is essential. It’s our back-up energy store and it makes chemical signals that help keep our bodies in check. But when we have too much body fat, it can have harmful effects.
Extra fat we carry releases hormones and other growth-promoting signals around our bodies. It also causes inflammation, effecting how often our cells divide. These changes in cell division that are most likely behind the increased risk of cancer.
Source: Cancer Research UK
Honey roasted veg (carrots, parsnips, turnips and beetroots roasted in a tsp each of olive oil and honey per person)
After: 12g sugar, 132 calories
Boil 200g each of peeled, chopped carrots, turnips, parsnips and beetroots for five minutes; drain and spread out on a baking tray.
Meanwhile whisk two teaspoons of 1:1 low calorie sweetener (or equivalent in a liquid sweetener) with four teaspoons of olive oil, some black pepper and dried rosemary to taste.
Coat the veg in this mixture and roast in a medium oven for 30-40 minutes. Makes 4 servings
7. Pasta sauce
Save 4.2g sugars and 14 calories per serving
Before: 12.6g sugar and 98 calories
A 175g serving bought tomato and basil sauce
After: 10.5g sugar and 84 calories
For a 175ml serving of homemade no added sugar tomato and basil sauce – saute a small chopped onion and two garlic cloves in a tsp olive oil. Add one tablespoons balsamic vinegar, three tablespoons of chopped fresh basil, two tablespoons of tomato puree and two 400g tins of canned tomatoes.
Add another tablespoon of balsamic vinegar if you would like (2.4g sugar). Season to taste with black pepper and dried oregano, simmer for 15 minutes and then blend to desired consistency. Makes four servings.
8. Mojito mocktail
Save 8g sugar and 24 calories per drink
Before: 9.4g sugar, 33 calories
Standard mojito mocktail of lime, club soda, mint and two level teaspoons sugar.
After: 1.4g sugar and 9 calories per drink.
Place some crushed ice, the juice of half a large lime and two lime quarters into a cocktail shaker with 1-2 teaspoons of 1:1 sweetener (or equivalent liquid sweetener) and shake.
Muddle through five mint leaves and add 125ml club soda.
WHAT ARE THE TEN WAYS TO CUT BACK ON FREE SUGARS AND BEAT CRAVINGS?
1. Always check the label
The front of pack labelling on foods shows the amount of sugar in the product so opt for those with green or amber traffic light colours.
2. Understand sugar in the ingredient list
The front of pack labelling is a little misleading as it represents all sugars in the product. You can look at the ingredient list to get a better idea of any free sugars they contain.
Free sugars come in many guises but as a rule of thumb look for anything that ends in ‘ose’ (sucrose, glucose, fructose) as well as any healthier sounding alternatives, such as raw sugar, barley malt, maple syrup, coconut nectar, palm sugar, agave nectar, date sugar and brown rice syrup. These are all classed as free sugars.
3. Sweet food swaps
Try sweetening foods with fresh or dried fruit and if you are looking for a sweet snack then opt for those that are fruit-based.
WHAT DAMAGE IS SUGAR DOING?
Excess sugar in the diet is linked to a variety of health risks, and the effects in the UK diet are evident in recent research.
Teeth: The NHS spending data showing that there were 42,911 hospital procedures to remove multiple teeth from patients aged 18 and under in 2016-17 at a cost of more than £36 million, according to Dr Uchenna Okoye, a spokesperson for the BDA and a dentist at London Smiling.
Heart disease: A high-sugar diet was associated with a greater risk of dying from heart disease in a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. The researchers also found that the higher your intake of sugar the greater your risk of developing heart disease.
Too much sugar in the diet can also raise blood pressure and encourage inflammation in the body, which are also risk factors for heart disease.
Diabetes: High amounts of sugar can overload the liver where it’s converted into fat. Over time fat can accumulate and increase the risk of fatty liver disease, which is a contributor to diabetes – also a risk factor for heart disease.
Weight gain: Excess free sugars in the diet also promote weight gain, which is a risk factor for many other diseases.
Dr Meg Arroll, psychologist on behalf of Healthspan and co-author of The Shrinkology Solution said: ‘Free sugars also have an addictive-like effect on the brain, triggering our internal reward system – this means that the more we have, the more we want, so it’s important to be aware of which foods contain these sugars in order to take control of our eating habits.’
A slice of malt loaf has a quarter of the sugar content and twice the fibre of a chocolate cookie.
4. Include a source of protein with every meal
Protein is very satiating, which means it can help to keep you feeling full between meals and lessen the desire to snack.
Partner your proteins with health fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds), fibre (wholegrains) and plenty of vegetables for maximum satiety.
Examples include eggs and spinach on wholegrain toast for breakfast or a grain-based chicken salad with seeds.
5. Explore your spice rack
You can substitute sugar or at least some of the sugar you add to foods and drinks with sweet spices such as ground ginger, allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon.
These spices can be added to hot beverages and smoothies or sprinkled over porridge and yoghurt in place of sweeteners such as sugar or honey.
6. Ditch sugary drinks
Soft drinks are one of the biggest offenders when it comes to free sugar in the diet and this is not just fizzy drinks but energy drinks, fruit juices, iced teas and coffees.
If you want a fizzy soft drink then maybe opt for something sugar-free; you can also flavour sparkling water with fruits, vegetables and herbs such as lemons, limes, strawberries, mint, cucumber, rosemary, fresh ginger and basil.
7. Try chromium supplements
This mineral has been shown to help manage blood glucose (sugar) as part of something called the glucose tolerance factor (GTF).
This factor increases the effectiveness of insulin, which is a hormone that helps to control blood sugar levels by transporting glucose into cells.
Chromium also helps the body to process the carbohydrates, fats and proteins in the foods we eat.
While the research is not conclusive, many people find chromium supplements a useful way to reduce sugar cravings by taking with meals.
8. Keep yourself busy
‘Idle hands make for the devil’s work’ so the saying goes. It’s thought that the desire for something sweet after you have eaten stems from childhood.
Evenings are when many people crave something sweet so keep treats out of the house and fill your time by going out for a walk, doing something around the house or having a nice bath with a good book rather than flopping in front of the TV with a family pack of minstrels.
9. Chew on gum
Chewing gum has been shown to help with sweet cravings so keep a pack to hand and obviously go for something that’s sugar-free.
10. Take time to relax
Stress can lead to cravings and a desire to seek out sweet comfort foods. Try to adopt other ways to manage your stress rather than relying on food.
The mineral magnesium helps to relax the body and can be found in foods such as nuts, seeds and even a little high-cocoa dark chocolate, which is also rich in the compounds phenylethylamine that acts as mild mood booster.