Cutting down on sugar

By gradually introducing smart trade-offs, one can keep variety and choice on the menu. Carbohydrates have taken a lot of heat in recent years because nutritionists are linking excess consumption of refined sugars to the dramatic rise of obesity levels in the UK. Yes, it’s a fact that people tend to eat more refined sugars than is actually needed. And yes, most sweet products like fizzy drinks and chocolate bars provide few if any required nutrients, so we really don’t need to eat them at all.

But just because sugar has received a lot of bad press in recent years doesn’t mean that all carbohydrates should be avoided. Carbohydrates belong in a balanced diet, and according to recommended dietary guidelines, approximately half of our daily food should consist of them. However, and most importantly, refined sugar should make up no more than 15% of a days total calorie intake.

Carbohydrates are the body\’s most common source of energy, providing around four kilocalories of energy per gram. The so-called simple carbohydrates include sugars such as sucrose, fructose, glucose and lactose. Complex carbohydrates can be found in foods such as starchy vegetables, grains, rice and cereals.

Any food that is high in any type of carbohydrate will raise the blood sugar level after meal – but some do it faster than others. To compare foods according to their effect on blood glucose level, the term glycemic index (GI) was devised. Carbohydrates with lower GI level cause a more gradual peak in the blood sugar level.

To put it simply, ‘good’ carbohydrates fill you up and keep you feeling satisfied for longer and without sudden peaks in blood sugar level. Foods with low GI include:

• Whole-grain cereals and breads

• Brown rice

• Fruits

• Vegetables

• Low-fat dairy.

Attitudes are changing, action still lags behind

While there is no reason to ban carbohydrates from the diet altogether, it is smart to cut down on added sugars. Added sugars are defined as those sugars added to foods and beverages during processing or home preparation, and they hardly ever come with the straightforward name ‘sugar’. Some examples of added sugars include honey, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, brown sugar, corn sweetener, sucrose, lactose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup and malt syrup.

The good news is that Britons are more conscious than ever of their sugar consumption. One in three British consumers say they are actively trying to cut down on sugar, according to recent Mintel data, and yet, millions of dieters are failing in their attempt. They find themselves having to watch the pounds creep back on time and time again, why is it so difficult to break the habit?

Many have developed an emotional dependence to eating, and food is used as a comfort in times of stress or anxiety. What can help reduce comfort eating is to identify the cause of distress, and also to find alternative ‘pick-me-ups’ to chocolate and other sweet foods.

A further key to decreasing sugar consumption, say medical experts, is in moderation. People have an inborn desire to sweet taste, and a little sugar isn’t harmful to anyone. Studies show that restrictive diets, which eliminate complete food groups – such as carbohydrates – have the worst failure rates over time.

Another trap is to try to balance the scale by skipping meals. Skipping lunch will only lead to a decrease in the blood sugar level, which will be compensated by an uncontrolled hunger pang.

Intense sweeteners

Many dieters reduce the amount of table sugar added to tea or coffee by switching to intense sweeteners. Besides table-top sweeteners, intense sweeteners are commonly found in the UK in diet colas and other low-calorie drinks, juices, sweets, chewing gum, cereals, yoghurts, other desserts, snack foods such as crisps, medicines and vitamin supplements.

A popular myth associated with intense sweetener use is their alledged link to cancer. However, several studies in people have taken the fizz out of arguments that the diet sodas or table-top sweeteners might raise the risk of cancer. No increased risk was seen even among people who gulped down many aspartame-sweetened drinks a day, reported a group of US researchers who studied the diets of more than half a million older Americans.

Also the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that all intense sweeteners found on the UK market are safe for daily consumption. As intense sweeteners are 400-2000 times sweeter than sugar, only miniscule amounts are needed.

Smart trade-offs

One of the easiest ways to start cutting down on sugar is to eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages. Not only can drinking sweetened sodas lead to the erosion and dental cavities, but each 330-ml can of soft drinks contains a whopping amount of 10 teaspoons of sugar.

The same goes to fruit juices – while having a high sugar content, juices lack most of the fibres found in raw fruit. It is better to limit juices to one portion per day and learn to prioritize fresh fruits.

For the occasional sweet tooth, there is a wide range of toothfriendly and sugar-free alternatives available. To keep your hands away from sugary nibbles, stock your purse and office desk drawers with sugar-free mints and chewing gums. Another tip is to brush your teeth – the peppermint taste will evidently take your mind off chocolate.

Is ‘sugar-free’ always toothfriendly?

The presence of sugar substitutes in sweets and beverages does not automatically mean that ‘sugar-free’ products are safe for teeth. Sugar-free foods with high quantities of acid can attack dental enamel. They also may contain fermentable ingredients other than sugars, such as starch or oligosaccharides.

Would you like to know more?

To be sure whether a confectionery product is truly toothfriendly, look for the Happy Tooth symbol. Only sweets that are embossed with this logo have been evaluated in an intra-oral telemetry test by an independent university dental institute and found to be non-cariogenic and non-erosive.

Get the most out of your membership by subscribing to Dentistry CPD
  • Access 600+ hours of verified CPD courses
  • Includes all GDC recommended topics
  • Powerful CPD tracking tools included
Register for webinar
Add to calendar