While opinions are split on the extent that sugar is to blame for the world's obesity problems and other diseases, Australian health statistics suggest that many of us are consuming more sugar than we need. If you want to reduce your sugar intake here are some great ways to do it.
- CUT IT BACK *
Pediatric endocrinologist and author Robert Lustig is one of the latest vocal opponents of sugar.
This month he released the book _Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar _ (Harper Collins; $24.95). Drawing on his work in childhood obesity at the University of California's Teen and Child Health weight assessment program, Dr Lustig blames sugar for many health problems including diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Dr Lustig said the first step in cutting back sugar was to drop sugary drinks.
Then make a habit of reducing it where you can. For example, in any recipe that called for sugar, the amount of sugar should be reduced by one-third, he said.
"I promise your home-baked goods will be better-tasting and better for you," he said.
"You can actually taste the chocolate, the oatmeal, the nuts. Lastly, make dessert special. When I grew up, dessert was once a week. Now it's once a meal and also at snack time. My children know that a weekday dessert means a piece of fruit, and weekends are reserved for something more elaborate."
Try having your cup of tea or coffee unsweetened - for a person who drinks two cups a day with a teaspoon of sugar in each, this reduction alone could save 14 teaspoons of sugar per week hitting the waistline.
- HAVE FRUIT, REDUCE FRUIT JUICE *
Drinking sugar (in beverages) is one of the easiest ways to gain weight.
"We were designed to eat our calories, not drink them," he said. "Just think of a soda as a fructose delivery vehicle, similar to cigarettes. And juice is worse than soda. Juice has 5.8 teaspoons of sugar per cup; soda has 5.4. Eat your fruit, don't drink it."
Dietitians Association of Australia spokeswoman and dietitian Maria Packard said fruit in the recommended daily intake of two serves per day was fine.
"One serve of fruit equals one medium piece of fruit like apple, pear, banana, or two smaller fruits like apricots, or 1 1/2 tbsp dried fruit, or half a cup of fruit juice. When it comes to fruit juice, serve size is the main issue. A recommended serve of fruit juice is 125ml - that's only half a cup, compared to what some of the local juice bars can serve up around the 600ml. The concern here is that by juicing fruit most of the fibre is removed making it easy to over-consume (as it doesn't make you feel full) and therefore can lead to an overconsumption of kilojoules when compared to eating whole fruit."
- JUST BAN IT *
Be honest with yourself: do you eat more than a moderate amount of sugar and need to lose weight?
If the answer is yes, it's time to drop the bad stuff. Start by throwing out the main sugar culprits and don't buy them at your next grocery shop.
If soft drinks and biscuits are not in your cupboard, you can't eat them. Ms Packard said the main culprits which were high in added sugars and low in nutritional value were soft drinks, cakes, biscuits and lollies.
"That is when the food or drink is made mainly from sugar and doesn't provide any additional nutritional value, and is easy to over-consume. For example soft drink (a 375ml can of soft drink equals 10 teaspoons of sugar), flavoured mineral waters, sports drinks and cordials," she said.
Foods high in added sugars and fat (particularly saturated fat) such as commercial cakes, biscuits and sweet pastries should always be avoided.
- FIGHT CRAVINGS *
Do you have a mega sweet tooth, all the time?
"Try foods containing natural sweetness and that are loaded with vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants," advised Ms Packard.
"For example, seasonal fruit or fruit and low-fat dairy - a fruit smoothie made with low-fat milk, berries topped with low fat yoghurt, fruit salad topped with reduced fat custard. It helps satisfy the sweetness as well as the feeling of fullness and is nutrient packed - calcium and protein from dairy (lactose is the natural sugar found in milk and dairy) have a low GI, so they are more slowly digested, and the fruit provides fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
"Some people also find raisin toast with a scrape of ricotta dusted with cinnamon can help satisfy sweet cravings."
Ms Packard said if you're cutting back on sugar, don't cut out fruit.
"Fruit is one of nature's superfoods," she said. "Fruit provides the body with valuable nutrients, fibre and antioxidants and is great for your health."