Meet Jo Tavers BSc RD MBDA
Our new Good Food Lewisham Steering group member. Jo is a registered dietician and helps with evidenced based nutrition.
At our last Good Food Lewisham network meeting sugar was a hot topic for discussion. Sugar Smart Lewisham was discussed and people were keen to find out the differences between real/natural sugar versus artificial sweeteners.
Jo has kindly put together a sugar fact sheet together to clear up some of those sugar myths and questions.
The Sweet Truth About Sugar and Sweeteners: A Science-Based Perspective
Sweet foods and drinks taste delicious and that’s why they are everywhere! But as you might have noticed, sometimes the information about sugar and sweeteners can be confusing and unhelpful. So let’s have a look at the different types of sweeteners out there and their effects on our health.
Types of Sweeteners
Sugars and syrups: This is things like sugar you buy from the supermarket, honey, and maple syrup. Other sugars that you might see as ingredients in food and drinks you buy are high-fructose corn syrup and other syrups, as well as ingredients like maltose, dextrose, sucrose, glucose, and fructose. Sometimes there might be more than one type of sugar added to foods. These sugars have about 4 calories per gram. A can of full-sugar fizzy drink can have 35g of sugar in it!
Calorie-free sweeteners: sugar alcohols like xylitol, erythritol, and sorbitol (toothpastes and chewing gum often contain these); Stevia which is a sweet-tasting sugar substitute that is made from the leaf of the stevia plant, aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose and acesulfame-k (diet drinks often contain these). None of these sweeteners have any calories.
Fruit and juice: Fruit does contain sugar, but if you eat a piece of fruit you get lots of vitamins, minerals and fibre, which are all good for our health, and the sugar is digested slowly. Fruit juice still contains vitamins, but the sugar is digested very quickly which is not as good for us. Fruit and fruit juice both have calories, but a glass of fruit juice has more calories and sugar than one piece of fruit.
Sugar and Sweeteners and Health
Sugar can affect our health in some different ways.
Weight and overweight: Eating and drinking too much sugar is linked to weight gain, especially around the tummy. Sugary foods and drinks don’t make you feel full, but they do contain calories. This means you can still feel hungry and need to eat even after taking in a lot of calories. When we eat and drink more calories than our body needs, we can gain weight.
Non-sugar sweeteners don’t have any calories in them so might be a better choice if you are watching your weight.
Teeth: Sugary foods and drinks can cause tooth decay, especially if we don’t brush our teeth for two minutes twice a day. The calorie-free sweeteners as used in diet drinks do not cause tooth decay, but even fizzy drinks without sugar can still cause problems for our teeth because they are still acidic. Water, tea and coffee without sugar, milk and sugar-free squashes are the best drinks for your teeth.
Diabetes: If you have diabetes, sugary foods and drinks can raise your blood sugar which can cause long term problems. If you have diabetes it’s best to avoid sugary foods and drinks. The calorie-free sweeteners listed above do not raise blood sugar so these are a better choice for you. Eating fruit is a good thing to do, but stick to one piece at a time. If you have diabetes talk to your nurse about whether you should avoid juice.
Gut health: Non-calorie sweeteners are not perfect though. There is some research that has found that some of them can cause bloating and diarrhoea.
Tips & Tricks
Read Food Labels: Look at the ingredients list of the food you buy. Look out for things like sucrose, glucose and high fructose corn syrup. These are just other words for sugar.
Eat smaller portions of sugary foods: When you do have something sugary, keep portion sizes small. Smaller servings can still satisfy your sweet cravings without giving you too much sugar.
Clean teeth well: Brush teeth for two minutes in the morning and two minutes at night to stop tooth decay.
Sugar and sweeteners can be part of a balanced diet when we have them in small amounts. Choose mainly naturally sugar-free drinks like water, tea, coffee and try to limit the amount of foods you have with added sugar like sweets, chocolate, cakes and ice cream.
Want to learn more? and help with the war on sugar? join Sugar Smart Lewisham?