Learning to consume less sugar for better health.
‘Sugar isn’t a problem if consumed at recommended levels, but too much can lead to dental decay and a higher body weight.’ Dr Sze Yen Tan, dietitian
We humans are hardwired to like the sweet stuff. Two million years ago, it steered us towards high-kilojoule or nutrient-rich foods that helped us survive. All well and good when wild honey and fruit were the only dessert options, but not in a 21st-century supermarket where entire aisles are devoted to soft drink, sweets and biscuits.
A recent study from Sydney’s George Institute for Global Health found that about 70 per cent of packaged foods contain added sugar. No surprise, then, that the average sugar intake in Australia is about 14 teaspoons a day, according to the
Australian Health Survey, not counting the sugars found naturally in foods such as milk, fruit and vegies. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization suggests that added sugar should be no more than 10 per cent of our total kilojoule intake – about 12 teaspoons a day.
“Sugar isn’t a problem if it’s consumed at recommended levels, but too much can lead to dental decay and a higher body weight, and being overweight increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers,” says Dr Sze Yen Tan, a dietitian and lecturer at
Deakin University’s School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences.
Reducing the amount of sugar in your baking is one small change you can make, says Dr Tan, as long as you’re not fooled into thinking you can eat more. If you use alternative sweeteners, there are some small advantages. For example, honey and maple syrup are sweeter than white sugar so you need to use less, while agave syrup has a very low GI so is better for blood-sugar control. But on balance, the difference is very small, he adds.
“Artificial sweeteners have their place if they help overweight people transition to a healthier diet, but the crucial point is that we need to be less dependent on sweet food,” says Dr Tan.
It is possible to adjust to reduce sugar in your diet, says Professor Russell Keast of the Centre for Advanced Sensory Science at Deakin University. “But once you’ve reset your palate to prefer less sweet foods, you have to keep it up. If you go back to eating more sweet foods again, your palate will readjust to how it was before.”