FOOD

How Much Natural Sugar Should We Eat A Day?

Plus the difference between natural sugar and added sugar.

15/09/2017 7:06 AM AEST | Updated 15/09/2017 7:21 AM AEST
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We know we should be limiting our intake of sugary foods and drinks like lollies, soft drink, cake and biscuits for good health. But many of us are still confused about natural sugars -- especially with so much conflicting information online about fruit and natural sweeteners.

Common questions include: how much fruit should we have a day, are natural sweeteners like honey healthy, and what's the overall daily sugar intake limit?

To answer all your natural sugar-related questions, HuffPost Australia spoke to Chloe McLeod, accredited practising dietitian and sports dietitian.

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What's the difference between added sugar and natural sugar?

"Natural sugars are found naturally in a food -- so when sugar is present without it being added," McLeod told HuffPost Australia.

"For example, an apple contains natural sugars, whereas dried apple or apple juice contain natural sugars but also often contain added sugars.

"If we're talking about lollies or soft drink, this would be considered an added sugar because it's a product humans have made and the sugars contained are not natural."

How much added sugar should you have a day?

"There are a couple of different guidelines but I like to use the World Health Organisation guidelines," McLeod said.

"They recommend to keep intake of sugar to less than 10 percent of total energy intake to reduce risk of becoming overweight or obese, and to manage tooth decay. Even better would be to reduce daily intake of sugar to less than five percent of total energy intake."

To paint a better picture of this daily amount, aim for fewer than six teaspoons of sugar per day. One teaspoon of sugar is equal to around six grams.

"In a standard 375ml can of Coke there is just under 40 grams of sugar, so teaspoon-wise, it's about 6.5 teaspoons of sugar just in one can."

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One glass of soft drink can eat up your entire day's added sugar allowance.

Essentially, if you drink a can of cola you're blowing a whole day's worth of added sugar, plus more, in just one drink.

"It's really, really easy to over do it, particularly when there are so many foods with high amounts of sugar added in. Even fruit juice, which some people think is healthy, often have the same quantity of sugar as a can of Coke. Be really aware of which foods you are choosing and where they are fitting into your day."

Focus on meeting your daily sugar intake through whole foods like fruit, vegetables and complex carbohydrates.

"When looking at overall sugar intake, you want more of the sugars you are consuming to be coming from natural sugars. As an example, I wouldn't say 'have a can of Coke and don't have any other sugars in your day' because that's not going to be healthy."

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Vegetables contain natural, healthy sugar too.

How much natural sugar should you have a day?

We know soft drink and lollies should be off the table, but how much natural sugar from whole fruit should you have a day? The answer is 2-3 serves of fruit.

"If we're consuming natural sugars within the healthy eating guidelines -- for example, the two or three serves of fruit per day, five serves of veggies and adequate amounts of low GI carbohydrates, which do have some natural sugar in them -- this is meeting the guidelines of what you're looking for," McLeod explained.

"It's more about looking at added sugars -- we want those added teaspoons in the day to be quite low."

While eating more than three serves of fruit isn't inherently unhealthy, it just means there's less room for other important healthy foods like vegetables, nuts, lean protein and legumes.

"If you're having six or seven pieces of fruit in the day, I wouldn't be advising that either," McLeod said.

"It's not that the fruit is unhealthy, it just means that if you're having that many pieces of fruit, it's unlikely you're going to meet your veggie requirements, daily nut intake or dairy or alternative dairy intake per day. It's about fitting it all together."

So, rather than freaking out about natural sugars or weighing your fruit, just stick to the guideline of 2-3 pieces of fruit per day and fill your meals with lots of veggies.

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To get a variety of nutrients and flavours, eat different fruits throughout the week -- not just one kind.

What about honey, maple syrup and juice?

At this point you may be asking: do fruit juices and natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup count as natural sugars or added sugars? According to McLeod, these forms of sugar are what the World Health Organisation guidelines refers to as 'free sugars', which are similar to added sugars.

"These are foods which have sugar added by the manufacturer (for example, soft drink or lollies) or sugars naturally present in foods which can be healthy or unhealthy (for example, honey, fruit juice and some syrups)," McLeod said.

"Your body treats fruit quite differently compared to how it would treat sugar which has been added into foods like tomato sauce or fruit juice."

Essentially, free sugars are added sugars which can also contain some of the natural sugars.

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Take it easy with honey and maple syrup, and use whole fruit to sweeten desserts.

"As an example, honey is healthy, but you shouldn't have more than a drizzle. If you happen to love honey and go overboard with it, then you would be adding much more sugar than you really need. With honey or fruit juice, if you need them, have them in small quantities.

"Part of the problem with drinks, particularly with juice, is the sugar is going to be digested quickly and cause a spike in blood sugar levels and insulin -- there's no fibre there to slow down digestion.

"Whereas if you eat an apple, it's high in fibre so it will slow down how quickly that sugar is digested and used by your body."

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