Simple Ways to Eat Less Sugar

You’d probably be pretty frustrated if you went to the cinema to watch a film and found there were lots more trailers than you were expecting, not just at the beginning, but slotted throughout the film, popping up every time things got to a really crucial moment. And not even trailers for things you’re remotely interested in! You’d probably be annoyed because the film was not what you’d paid or signed up for.

Sometimes it’s a little bit like that with our food. If only the only foods that had sugar in them were those obviously ‘sugary’ foods, it would be so much easier to make healthy choices. But the truth is that sugar is in pretty much everything unless you cook completely from scratch. This is encouraged, of course, and if we could eat mainly whole, unprocessed foods, we’d be fine. But the minute you go for packaged and tinned foods, even if you think they are healthy, then there’s probably some sugar in them.

It’s recommended that we eat maximum and a 24g of sugar a day: 5-6 teaspoons. And if we have too much sugar can have a big impact on our teeth, our weight, our energy levels and our blood sugar levels, and it can lead towards diseases such as diabetes and heart disease and some cancers. So, it’s important that we keep our sugar intake under control.  The video and blog below highlight some unexpected hidden sugar and give you some simple tips for managing the amount of sugar you eat.

Over the last couple of days as I’ve been out and about, and preparing food to eat with family and friends, I’ve been surprised at the things that have some or lots of sugar in them:  

  • Low-sugar granola, as the name suggests, has some sugar in it, but I was surprised how much.
  • Mango chutney, as you might also expect, has sugar in it, but I was still shocked that sugar was the first ingredient on the list.
  • Crisps have lots of sugar in them; Monster Munch have sugar in as do the plainer flavours. And even the ‘healthier’ crisps and snacks (have you tried the pea crisps from Lidl or Aldi?) have some sugar in them.
  • Ketchup actually has more sugar than ice cream!
  • Oven chips – who knew oven chips would have sugar in them?
  • Shop-bought sushi, those little packs you get as part of a meal deal – they contain sugar.  
  • A shop-bought falafel and green leaf salad had sugar in it
  • Stir-through pasta sauces have sugar in them,
  • Flavoured yoghurts they have added sugar in them,
  • I found some mayonnaise that had sugar in it,
  • And bread contains sugar too.

And then of course there’s usual chocolate, biscuits, sweets, and ice cream as you would expect. So, it gets quite tricky to stay within that 5-6 teaspoon daily limit whenever we’re eating something that we haven’t created from scratch ourselves.  

Whether you’re looking for immediate results, if you need to lose a bit of body fat, if you want to feel less tired, if you don’t like this sugar cycle that you’re on, or whether that’s just because you know you’re not meant to be eating as much sugar, what kinds of things can you do to ensure you eat less sugar?

  • Be more sugar-aware: As the list above highlights, sugar is not just in things you expect to be sugary, it’s also snuck into many different foods. This week we’ve been looking at sugar in our ‘Forever’ group, (the membership group people can join after completing the Healthy Whole and Free course), encouraging each other to be more aware of how much sugar we are eating. At Fitfish, we believe in freedom, so there are no rules, but it can help to check the packets that you haven’t checked for a while, read the labels, and educate yourself. That way you can be more aware of the sugar that you are putting into your body and make choices about what you are eating.
  • Know the many names for sugar: It can be confusing because sugar isn’t always called ‘sugar’ on food labels. Other names for sugar are:
    • high fructose corn syrup,
    • cane sugar or cane juice,
    • maltose,
    • dextrose,
    • invert sugar,
    • rice syrup,
    • molasses,
    • caramel

You might be asking: “What about and what about fructose and lactose?” These are natural sugars found in fruits and milk, which are not in the same category as the processed sugars in the list above. What we are talking about here is the white stuff that comes from sugarcane that is very highly processed, so it goes into our bloodstream very quickly.

Some people say to me “but you’re not meant to have too much fruit”. I have never met anyone who is struggling with health issues because they eat too much fruit; it’s the other sugars that are a problem. Fruit sugars eaten in whole fruits come with fibre, nutrients, and vitamins, and they are good for you. if you suffer from diabetes or polycystic ovary syndrome it might be that you need to make sure that you don’t have too much sugar in general and that might include only having two or three portions of fruit a day, but for people without these conditions, there is should be no issue with using fruit to sweeten things.

  • De-sugar your breakfast: If you’re in the habit of having some sugary cereals for breakfast (bear in mind the cereals you might not think are sugary, like corn flakes or bran flakes have sugar in them, and some of them quite a lot!) you might consider having something like oats instead. Or you could make your own sugar-free granola or muesli and add some sweetness by adding fruit. Alternatively, you could have plain yoghurt, eggs, avocado or whole grain toast. The key is to start your day on a good note, so your blood sugar doesn’t go spike after your first meal. If it does rise after breakfast, you may then struggle all day with peaks troughs, and needing to eat more sugar to try and keep you an even keel.
  • Watch your sauces! You now know that ketchup is very high in sugar, but sugar is also found in many other sauces: in chutneys, in dressings, in thicker cooking sauces like curry and Bolognaise sauce and stir-though sauces too. So, even though it might be challenging to start with and require a little bit of work, the best thing we can do is learn how to make the sources we like from scratch. I’m not talking about ketchup if that’s something you only have occasionally, but if you regularly have curry, tomato-based sauces, or stir-fries, it might be worth investing some time in to learn how to make them. And there are lots of other things you can do to add flavour to your food: you can include herbs, spices or condiments like chilli, mustard, vinegar, or pesto, which usually has no sugar. And things like peanut butter, tahini, lemon juice or lime juice, can bring lots of flavours to your cooking without adding sugar too. If you’re making a sauce and it tastes too bitter, then adding some pineapple or apple can bring some sweetness in to balance out the bitterness.
  • Make sure you get enough sleep because tiredness actually predisposes you to make less healthy choices throughout the day. Your brain wants energy and for you to feel awake, so it may tell you that you need sugar. In fact, you don’t need sugar, you actually need more sleep. So, if you’re tired a lot, and find yourself eating more sugar because you are tired, then it’s worth focusing on sorting out your sleep so you’re not predisposed eating more sugar. And the same goes for stress; stress also makes you crave more sugar so if you’re stressed, it’s worth looking at the root cause of that.
  • Always eat from a plate: Do you eat cereal straight out of the box? Or pick at some of your kids’ sweets when you give them a bowl? Do you grab a biscuit or a bit of chocolate here and there? Having a rule that all the snacks you eat are eaten from a plate, or better still, a plate on a table, means you will be far more mindful of what you are eating. And being mindful will help you to decide whether you really want to make the choice to eat something, or not, and prevent mindless snacking.
  • Before you eat, pause. If you know there’s sugar in what you’re about to eat, but you really want it and you’ve actively chosen to eat it, then that’s OK. But it’s always worth pausing and considering whether there’s something similar but healthier you could eat instead, or whether that thing is what you really want and to be clear that’s your choice.
  • ‘Water down’ soups, sauces, or cereals with non-sugary things. For example, if your children (or you) are in a bit of a sugary cereal habit can you gradually ‘water it down’ with some non-sugary cereals? That could be a base of oats or a base of something like Weetabix which is lower in sugar and then just a tiny sprinkle of the sugary cereal on top. So, they (or you) still feel like they’re having some sugary cereal but it’s not sending theirs blood sugar into the sky. You can apply the same idea to savoury sauces too rather than using a whole jar of pasta sauce, use less and bulk out your dish with tinned tomatoes or passata, or even more fresh vegetables.

Navigating sugar is challenging and tricky! We’re absolutely surrounded by it everywhere. At Fitfish we believe in choice and that all food can serve a healthy purpose, whether that’s for nutrition, for energy, for replenishment or for enjoyment. So, those Maltesers that you really like, those Lindt balls, those crisps, that chocolate, or whatever it is for you, you can still have those things but by being more aware of where sugar is hiding in other foods, you won’t be mindlessly eating it in other forms, and you can make informed choices. There’s a lot to consider here, and it’s probably best not to try it all at once, but perhaps pick just one thing to try this week and let us know in the comments how you get on!  

We cover tactics for building healthier habits around food in our Healthy Whole and Free course, which starts again on Monday 26th September. Registration is open, and you can sign up here

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