Breaking up with sugar is hard to do, so start slow


The carbohydrates in foods such as fruits, vegetables and wholegrain products, are fully sufficient to supply our bodies with energy. — Photos: dpa

A croissant for breakfast, ice-cream for dessert, and some cake with your afternoon coffee: It's not easy to get through the day without sugar.

Sugar doesn't have the best of reputations, but a lot of us love it anyway.

If that applies to you, it's worth considering cutting consumption for the sake of good health.

But how to kick a sugar habit?

First an important fact: "Sugar is a nutrient our bodies need," says nutritional medicine specialist Dr Antonia Stahl.

Sugar is the simplest form of carbohydrate – one of the three macronutrients in our diet, along with protein and fat – and the body's main fuel source.

Our digestive system breaks down carbohydrates into glucose – a monosaccharide (simple sugar), which is absorbed into the bloodstream, and keeps our brain, muscles and other bodily functions running.

Sugar in general is neither "good" nor "bad", but simply an energy supplier for the body, says Dr Stahl, adding that matters are more complicated when it comes to what's commonly understood to be sugar.

Glucose and fructose (fruit sugar), for instance, are both simple sugars. They're found in fruit and honey.

Standard table sugar, also known as saccharose or sucrose, is a disaccharide (double sugar) made up of one glucose and one fructose molecule.

All of these sugars are short-chain carbohydrates, which are quicker to digest than long-chain ones.

This means they cause a spike in blood sugar (glucose) and release of high levels of insulin – a hormone that allows glucose to enter cells to produce energy.

Oligosaccharides, on the other hand, are a type of carbohydrate chain made up of multiple, but relatively few (compared with polysaccharides) simple sugars.

They're more difficult to digest and absorb by the body, and therefore, tend to be healthier, Dr Stahl says.

Found in vegetables and wholegrain products, for example, they don't really satisfy our sweet tooth though.

So sugar comes in many forms.

Refined, or processed, sugar, which is typically added to foods and beverages to improve their taste, isn't required by the body at all, she says.

The carbohydrates we consume in foods such as vegetables, fruits and wholegrain products, are fully sufficient to supply our bodies with energy.

If you want to reduce your daily sugar intake, read the nutrition labels on foods that you buy, and choose those that have 5g or less sugar per 100g of the food.If you want to reduce your daily sugar intake, read the nutrition labels on foods that you buy, and choose those that have 5g or less sugar per 100g of the food.

Sugar should make up no more than 10% of your daily calorie intake, according to Silke Restemeyer, spokesperson for the German Nutrition Society (DGE).

If your intake is 2,000 calories, that means you should eat a maximum of 50 grammes of sugar.

This includes all added sugars, as well as sugar found in honey and fruit juices, but not sugar in fruits and plain yoghurt.

Restemeyer says there's nothing wrong with indulging in a piece of chocolate now and then if your diet is otherwise balanced.

But it's problematic, Dr Stahl warns, if you consume large amounts of added sugars every day, which increases your risk of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

However, you can't avoid refined sugar simply by going without sweets, according to Dr Stahl, because it's often added to foods such as cheese, sausage and yoghurt as a flavour enhancer.

Considerable amounts of added sugar are also found in foods such as frozen pizza, barbecue sauce and ready-made potato salad, says Restemeyer.

Natural, unprocessed foods are clearly the healthiest ones.

Since forgoing sugar is anything but easy though, Dr Stahl recommends starting small.

The first step is making yourself aware of sugar content by reading the nutrition labels on foods that you buy.

Foods with a maximum of 5g of sugar per 100g of the product are suitable for a reduced-sugar diet.

You can begin by getting in the habit of eating one low-sugar meal a day – say, a healthy breakfast consisting of oat flakes with milk and fruit instead of chocolate muesli.

Once you've got used to one low-sugar meal daily, you can try two, says Dr Stahl.

After a while, your appetite for sugar will diminish.

As regards beverages, would it be better to choose fizzy drinks with artificial sweetener?

After all, sweeteners such as aspartame are sugar-free, don't cause tooth decay and have hardly any calories.

Restemeyer has reservations: Some artificial sweeteners have a laxative effect when consumed in large amounts, she notes.

And they're not helpful in weaning yourself off sweet flavours.

So it's better to drink a glass of water with a dash of fresh lemon and mint. – By Vera Kraft/dpa

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Sugar , diet , nutrition


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