Sugar: The Good, The Bad and The Truth

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Sugar has earnt itself a bad name – and understandably so given the overwhelming number of documentaries, health studies and news appearances that reveal its negative effects. But is this the truth of the matter, and what can we do about it?

The Good News

Naturally occurring sugar forms part of a healthy diet. Fruit, vegetables and plain dairy products all contain natural sugars like lactose and fructose, which contribute to our body’s optimal function, including providing your body with adequate fuel.

Health experts even suggest that a healthy diet can include up to 25g of free sugars, which includes all added sugars, as well as sugars from honey, fruit juice and fruit juice concentrates.

So fortunately, you don’t need to cut any source of sugar from your diet completely, as long as all are consumed in moderation.

The Bad News

Unfortunately, most Australians exceed the World Health Organisation’s recommended daily consumption, and by a considerable amount. An Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) study released in 2016 found that the average Australian is consuming 60g of free sugar – almost two and a half times the recommended daily amount of 25g.

These statistics are concerning, considering that excessive consumption of sugar increases your risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which can lead to a number of serious health issues like Diabetes. It also plays a role in obesity and tooth decay.

Excessive sugar consumption can even be a contributing factor to mood disorders like depression, due to the inconsistencies in blood sugar levels affecting energy and mood.

The Truth

The most surprising of all is the source of our excessive sugar consumption.

According to the ABS study, 81% of free sugars in our diets come from junk food and drinks. Whilst confectionary, cakes and muffins are often blamed for excess sugar consumption in the media, they only accounted for approximately 17.4% of free sugar intake in the study. In fact, the highest source of free sugar intake wasn’t a food at all; soft drinks, electrolyte and energy drinks were the primary source.

Reducing or replacing these sugary treats in your diet is a great way to reduce your daily sugar intake, but you may still be consuming excessive amounts of sugar due to the hidden sugars found in other processed foods.

For example, a bottle of tomato pasta sauce contains 5-10g per serve and some stir-fry sauces contain up to 20g per serve. It’s easy to imagine how someone with a seemingly healthy diet can actually be exceeding their recommended daily sugar intake without realising it.

You can test your sugar savviness with this interactive, visual quiz created by ABC to raise awareness of the sugar content in common food and drinks:

Regardless of what your daily free sugar intake is, you can benefit from being more aware of the sugar you are consuming and how this compares to the daily recommended amount of just 25g.

For individualised support with improving your diet and making other healthy choices, consider joining our free 6-week Health & Wellness Program. The program focuses on practical advice from our Physiotherapists, Diabetes Educators and Accredited Practicing Dietitians like how to evaluate sugar content from food labels. Find out if you’re eligible and register here.