The time to cut sugar is now

Last updated 05:00 01/06/2014
TIME TO CUT IT: Research is mounting about the poor health effects of sugar.

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The tide of evidence on sugar and its negative effects on health seems to be swelling.

The latest research is from the team at the University of Otago, who have uncovered proof that sugar has a direct effect on risk factors for heart disease, including blood pressure and cholesterol. This is independent of the effect sugar has on weight gain.

Although the effect was described as "modest", researcher Dr Lisa Te Morenga said: "Our findings support public health recommendations to reduce added sugar in our diets as one of the measures which might be expected to reduce the global burden of cardiovascular diseases."

While it is not ideal to focus on a single component of the diet - and we always need to think about the big picture of our total diet rather than getting bogged down trying to eliminate all traces of sugar - we would all do well to keep a close eye on the added sugar we're eating. Which means not only the white stuff we add to things, but also the sugar that's often hidden in bought and processed foods.

Then there is the sugar with a health halo. In my opinion, there's a bit of smoke and mirrors being practised when it comes to "healthy" sugar substitutes. I'm talking about those "refined sugar-free" recipes and cafe treats. Don't be fooled. Just because a cake or a raw sweet treat has no white sugar in it does not make it sugar-free - or any healthier.

Honey, rice malt syrup, agave nectar, molasses and brown, raw or coconut sugar are all simply different types of sugars, composed of various combinations of glucose, fructose, sucrose and maltose, among others. I've also seen dextrose promoted as a sugar substitute by sugar-free diet proponents. I don't really understand this since dextrose is simply another name for glucose, the simplest of all sugars (and the most quickly absorbed).

All of these sweeteners are considered added sugars, the type the World Health Organisation tells us we are wise to limit. In fact, its new recommendations are that we eat no more than about six teaspoons a day of added sugar, making a glass of juice or a can of soft drink easily your entire added sugar allowance. Sugar in whole fruit, vegetables and dairy products is not described as added sugar - the sugar is intrinsic in these foods. This is a much better way to get our sweetness.

Dried fruit is often used to give sweetness instead of sugar, too. This is a more concentrated form of sugar than we get from whole fruit, though. It's quite easy to eat a lot of sugar in dried fruit form, and it doesn't fill us up the same as whole fruit.

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Dried fruit does give us some fibre, though. So as long as you don't go overboard - and watch out for dried fruit with extra sugar added, such as dried cranberries and blueberries - an occasional treat sweetened with dried fruit is not a bad option.

- Sunday Star Times

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