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Is sugar really all that bad?

Sugar is a bad word in this day and age, but the fact is that lots of us in Ireland eat sugar as part of a balanced diet. At its most simple, sugar is a carbohydrate that comes in several different forms. Different sugars are found naturally in many foods, such as:

  • Glucose – fruits, veg, table sugar, honey, milk products, cereal
  • Fructose – fruit, honey, veg
  • Sucrose – table sugar, honey, fruits, veg
  • Galactose – milk products
  • Lactose – milk products
  • Maltose – malt, cereals

When people discuss the negative impact of sugar, they are most often talking about ‘free sugars’ which is sugar added to food or drinks, such as fizzy drinks, chocolate, biscuits, cakes, flavoured yoghurt products and so on. Other ‘free sugars’ are naturally occurring, such as those found in fruit juice, smoothies, syrup and honey.

What’s all the fuss about?

Overconsumption of free sugars can cause weight gain and is directly linked to tooth decay, which can result in oral health issues. It is recommended that free sugars shouldn’t make up more than 5% of the calories you get from food and drinks each day. 

This means adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars per day, which is approximately equivalent to seven sugar cubes. To put this in perspective, a standard can of cola contains 39g of sugar – more than an adult’s daily recommended intake of free sugars! Children, on the other hand, should be consuming less again, with those under 4 avoiding food and drink with added sugar entirely if possible.

We don’t necessarily need to cut down on naturally occurring sugars, but be aware that they contribute to the total amount of sugar we consume daily.

So how do I cut down on sugar?

Opt for water instead of sugary drinks where possible. Bear in mind that even unsweetened fruit juice and smoothies contain a fair amount of sugar. If you take sugar in coffee and tea, try cutting back gradually over time to eliminate this entirely. Choose reduced-sugar or sugar-free options where possible. Always read food labels to understand the breakdown of what’s really in your food. (Our handy guide to food labels is here.)

For more blogs on healthy eating and keeping active, click here.