Do I need to reduce my sugar intake?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has new guidelines recommending that fewer than 10% of daily calories should come from added sugar. Do I need to reduce my sugar intake?
Unfortunately, this question does not come with a simple answer. The first problem is that this recommendation presents a challenging math problem that most people don’t have to tools to solve:
- Few of us count calories and, when working with individuals to improve their food habits, I almost never suggest that someone start counting calories. So, if you don’t know how many calories you’re eating, how can you figure out what 10% of your calories is??
- This recommendation refers to added sugars, and the amount of sugar listed on nutrition facts panels does not distinguish between natural sugar and added sugar. For example, your yogurt might say that it contains 20g of sugar per serving, but what you’d have no way of knowing is that at least 6g of that is natural sugar already present in the yogurt. Based on this, we currently have no way of determining how much added sugar is in a given food.
- Even if we could distinguish between natural sugar and added sugar, sugar is listed in grams, not calories. Ugh…more math (ex. 15g sugar x 4kcal/g = 60kcal).
So, what is there to do?? The WHO guidelines are correct in acknowledging that many of us do consume a lot of sugar, but that doesn’t mean that it should be cut out completely either. Here are some tips to help you navigate the issue:
Read ingredients lists
Ingredients are listed by weight, so if sugar is towards the top of the list, there’s a fair chance that the product has a lot of added sugar. Often, manufacturers use a combination of multiple different sweeteners so that they only need to use a small amount of any given sweetener, meaning the name of each sweetener will appear further down the list. For this reason, be sure to read all of the ingredients to notice how many different sweeteners are in a product. Examples of names for sweeteners are sugar, brown sugar, honey, glucose, rice syrup, glucose-fructose, high fructose corn syrup, agave, maple syrup.
Check out your options
Compare different brands of foods such as bread, pasta sauce and yogurt and look for options with less sugar. Sometimes a great option can be to combine products. Many yogurts do have a lot of added sugar, but it takes time to adjust to plain yogurt. In the meantime, buy a tub of flavoured yogurt and a tub of plain yogurt and mix them together so that your yogurt is half as sweet. Packaged oatmeal contains a lot of sugar and is far more expensive than a large bag of plain oats. Try the plain option and flavour it yourself with cinnamon and fruit.
Reduce the amount of sugar that you add
Sugar in your coffee? Peanut butter and honey sandwich? Brown sugar in your oatmeal? Baking a batch of muffins? There’s no need to cut out the sugar completely, but can you reduce the amount that you add a bit?
When it comes to treat foods, choose the real thing and enjoy it!
Label reading and gradually decreasing the amount of sugar you add to everyday foods allows you to spend your sugar budget in places you’ll really enjoy it. When it comes to that once in a while ice cream cone or brownie, choose the real thing and enjoy it. Avoid artificially-sweetened options and certainly don’t deprive yourself of those special indulgences. Ignoring cravings only causes them to build up to the point where you need a whole tub of ice cream to feel satisfied! Really intense and frequent cravings can be a sign that the timing or balance at your meals and snacks is askew. If you’re struggling with this, book a free one-to-one nutrition appointment by calling x52131.
Visit the University of Guelph's Mental Well-Being website for more information on Mental Wellness. Also find other healthy living resources on campus and ways to get connected/involved in your campus community for overall mental health and well-being.