Can you have your cake and eat it?

Posted by Heather Doggett on 01 November 2019

As the sugar debate continues to dominate health and wellbeing agendas, Public Health England reported earlier this year that children in the United Kingdom are likely to have exceeded the maximum recommended intake of sugar for an 18 year old by the time they turn 10, as their consumption of sugar is equivalent to 2800 excess sugar cubes per year.  Rates of severe obesity among 10 and 11 year olds have reached a record high.  Un-sweetening the world’s diet may be the key to reversing the obesity epidemic.

Free sugar means all the different types of sugar we have in our diet, excluding the sugars found naturally in “intact” fruit and vegetables, and in milk and milk products.  Importantly, most of our free sugar intake comes from sugar added to food and drink by manufacturers.  Since carbohydrate recommendations were last considered in 1991, the evidence that a high intake of free sugars is detrimental to several health outcomes has strengthened.

Something that didn’t hit the news was the evidence that total carbohydrate intake has no positive or negative effects on weight gain, heart health, bowel cancer or oral health. The more important issue was the amount of free sugars in the diet.  Increasing the amount of total calories coming from free sugars in food or sugar-sweetened drinks was linked to:

  • weight gain
  • higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers
  • higher rates of tooth decay

How to cut down on sugar in your diet

Current recommended daily intakes:

4 – 6 years: 5 cubes   (19g)

7 – 10 years: 6 cubes (24g)

11 +: 7 cubes (30g), equal to less than a single can of cola, which contains 39g.

  • Identify the sources of sugar in your diet and decide what to cut out completely and what to cut down on.
  • You don’t need to cut down on sugars found in fruit or dairy products because these foods contain lots of nutrients that are good for us.
  • It’s the food high in added sugar, which contain lots of calories but few other nutrients, that we should be trying to consume less of.
  • Nutrition labels tell you how much sugar a food contains. Anything under 5g of total sugar per 100g is low – look for the green squares on the nutritional content of packaging. Even things that you don’t think are sweet, like tomato sauce, crackers and salad dressings, can be packed with sugar.
  • Watch out for other words used to describe added sugar as there are lots of different ways added sugar can be listed on ingredients labels:

When reducing sugar intake, you may be tempted to switch to artificial sugars for your sweet fix. But resist!  Artificial sweeteners, precisely because they are sweet, encourage sugar craving and sugar dependence.  Fake sugars are associated with weight gain—not loss, according to a 2010 review in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.  At first, cutting down on sugar can feel like an impossible task. Eventually, though, your taste buds will adjust.   

Set the example for children; use the Change for Life Sugar Swaps tool for more ideas and then perhaps we actually won’t want to have our cake and eat it too.

Alison Lambert, Lead OHA