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7 ways to reduce your sugar intake

Chances are you’re eating more sugar than you should. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to cut down on your intake.

One small thing: Next time you’re baking, reduce the amount of sugar called for in the recipe by a third – in most cases it won’t noticeably affect the flavour.

Sugar is a simple carbohydrate found naturally in some of the foods and drinks we consume daily. But it can also be added to foods in different forms, such as table sugar, fruit juice concentrate or syrup.

In 2016, research from Wits University revealed the following: “South Africans consume between 12 and 24 teaspoons of sugar per day – four to eight teaspoons of which are from sugar-sweetened beverages.”

The World Health Organization recommends that we consume a maximum of five to 10 teaspoons of free sugars per day. Free sugar, or added sugar, is either added by you (i.e. to tea or coffee) or found, for example, in processed foods and fizzy drinks.

This means as South Africans we’re over our quota, and it’s problematic because too much sugar can lead to obesity, which can result in a higher risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Another good reason to avoid foods high in added sugar is that they are frequently a source of “empty” kilojoules – in other words, devoid of the essential nutrients needed for health, says dietitian and chef Kelly Scholtz. For example, foods with naturally occurring sugar, such as fruit, form an important part of our diet due to their additional vitamin and mineral content.

“Almost daily in my practice, I hear clients say that they avoid eating bananas like the plague, but they’ll eat digestive biscuits without a second thought,” comments Scholtz.

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Reducing the amount of sugar you consume daily is good for your health and not difficult to achieve. You could start by reducing the sugar in your tea and coffee, and gradually cut back on your total consumption.

As you cut down, you may start to notice:

  • increased energy levels
  • improved concentration
  • weight loss
  • fewer headaches
  • better sleep
7 ways to slash your sugar intake
  1. Get to know your food labels – sugars added to food or drink can be listed in various ways, so watch out for terms such as sucrose, syrup, glucose, dextrose, honey, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, treacle, molasses, agave or fruit-juice concentrates.
  2. Opt for “whole-food” sweetness, such as a piece of fresh fruit instead of the dried variety, advises Scholtz. Fresh fruit is naturally self-limiting because they are larger in portion size than their dried, processed or concentrated counterparts.
  3. Experiment with reducing the amount of sugar called for in recipes – in most cases, up to a third of the sugar can be taken out without noticeably affecting the flavour. Use unsweetened jams and canned fruits in fruit juice rather than syrup.
  4. Research shows that drinking fizzy beverages is associated with a high risk of obesity, which can lead to cardiovascular disease or Type 2 diabetes. Drink water infused with fresh fruit instead.
  5. Flavoured yoghurt is sweetened, so opt for plain yoghurt and add fresh fruit.
  6. Add flavour to recipes with spices rather than sugar. Cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger are good substitutes to help satisfy a sweet tooth.
  7. Packaging might indicate that a product has been fortified with vitamins and minerals and that it’s wholegrain, but that doesn’t mean there’s no added sugar. Check the nutrition table on cereal products, for example, and ensure their sugar content is less than 15-20g per 100g. And don’t add more!

If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit adsa.org.za. To get in touch with us, email healthhotline@pnp.co.za.