Debunking the sugar myth

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Myth: Unrefined sugar is healthier than ordinary sugar…

Many people believe that having honey or agave nectar or even brown sugar is healthier than having white sugar.

This is not the case. Sugar is sugar. 

Be it honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, coconut sugar, fructose, glucose, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate…these are all code words for sugar.

You may benefit from tiny amounts of extra vitamins or minerals from the unrefined sources of sugar; and having local honey could help with hayfever during the spring and summer months, but at the end of the day, they’re all added sugars and contribute to the recommended daily limit for sugar in the diet.

What are the recommended daily limits for added sugars/ free sugars?

4-6 years old :                   <19g free/ added sugars per day (=5 sugar cubes)

7-10 years old:                  <24g free/added sugars per day (=6 sugar cubes) 

11+ years old and adults:   <30g free/added sugars per day (=7 sugar cubes)

What are free/ added sugars?

These are the sugars found in honey, syrups, juice and sugar which is added to food and drinks.

Sugars found in milk, fruit and vegetables don’t count as free sugars and we don’t need to cut down on these (but they are included on labels’ total sugar content).

Diets that are too high in free sugars, can result in weight gain, which in turn can lead to diabetes; tooth decay; and other health conditions.

Labelling

You can find out about the amount of sugar in the food you are buying in three ways:

  1. The ingredients list. 

All the products that have been used to make the food will be listed in order of weight.  If sugar is listed – it is the same sugar you find in your kitchen cupboard.  There may also be other ingredients that contain sugars such as fruit, fruit juice or other sugar ingredients e.g. glucose, fructose, maltose.

  • The nutritional information panel. 

This will list the major nutrients in a product in a particular order, including energy, the amounts of fat, saturated fat (known as saturates), carbohydrates, sugars, protein and salt. Sugars will be listed as carbohydrates (which usually include both starches and sugars) and will use the phrase “of which sugars” to show how much sugars there are per 100g/100ml of product.

  • Traffic light label. 

This is an easy way to identify if the product has high levels of fat, salt or sugar through a colour coding system. 

Basically, the more green on this label – the healthier it is. 

However, if there is red on this label – it does not mean that we can’t eat the food, it just means that we should be aware of the amount that we eat and perhaps what we eat the food with.

Total sugar content:

Low (green):            <5g/ 100g

Medium (amber):     5-22.5g/ 100g

High (red):               >22.5g/ 100g or >27g per portion

Isabelle

Isabelle

Isabelle is a fantastic dietitian, who is passionate about helping people reach their health goals through their diet. She has 16 years’ experience in clinical and community dietetics, working with people to help them achieve their health and weight goals with nutrition as the main focus. Isabelle is empathetic and supportive, taking peoples' individual circumstances into consideration. There is no quick fix to poor health, and Isabelle’s aim is to help people make long term, sustainable, and flexible changes.
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