LIVING THE SWEET LIFE WITH LESS SUGAR
Author: Bianca Tromp RD (SA)
We all love a sweet treat every now and then- some of us a bit more often than others. And although the occasional sweet treat forms part of a balanced diet, including too much sugar in our daily diets can have health consequences. Excessive amounts of added sugar have even been linked to weight gain and obesity which in turn can lead to diabetes and heart disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that free sugar intake should be reduced to less than 10% of our total energy intake and that reducing it to less than 5% (approximately 6 teaspoons) has added health benefits1.
South Africans on average consume between 12-24 teaspoons of sugar per day2, which is well above the recommended amount. This is reflected in the health stats of South Africans with a staggering 31% of males and 68% of the women in the country classified as overweight or obese. Even more concerning is that 11.3% of South Africans have been diagnosed with diabetes4, while heart disease causes 215 deaths every day5.
Wow, that escalated quickly! And so does the amount of added sugar when we do not keep an eye on the foods we eat or how much sugar we add to food. Although obesity, diabetes and heart disease are long term effects of a diet with excessive sugar, the short-term effects are also noteworthy.
Foods that are high in sugar tend to have a high Glycaemic Index (GI) which means that they cause blood glucose levels to rapidly rise, providing a burst of energy. Our bodies then compensate by secreting insulin causing blood glucose levels to plummet, leaving us tired and fatigued. To avoid this surge and drop in energy levels, we should consume meals that have a low GI as these meals will provide sustained energy for an extended period of time.
10 FOOD HACKS FOR REDUCING SUGAR IN YOUR DIET AND CONTROL YOUR BLOOD GLUCOSE LEVELS:
1. Look out for foods that carry the Diabetes South Africa (DSA) and the Glycemic Index Foundation of South Africa (GIFSA) endorsement logos.
Foods that are endorsed by DSA comply to certain diabetes friendly criteria, including reduced sugar content and low GI.
GIFSA rates foods depending on their GI as “frequent foods,” “often foods”, “active foods” or “exercise foods”. If you are looking for low GI foods, that will be low in added sugar as well, look out for the “frequent foods” endorsement.
2. Rethink your drink
Sugar sweetened beverages are a major contributor to our excessive sugar consumption with a 330ml can of carbonated drink containing 8 teaspoons of sugar. Many of us then opt for fruit juices under the impression that they are a healthier choice. But a 330ml serving of fruit juice can contain up to 9 teaspoons of sugar2.
We recommend you stick to non-sugar alternatives of your favourite fizzy drink or opt for water or sparkling water which you can flavour with fresh fruit and mint. Remember to consume between 6-8 glasses of no-sugar fluids daily.
3. Include a protein in every meal/ snack
Protein helps reduce the GI of any meal, so include a protein in every meal and snack. Protein sources include soy, nuts and nut butters, seeds, beans, lentils, dairy, meat, eggs, fish and chicken.
4. Include whole grains
Whole grains are complex carbohydrates with all components of the grain intact which makes these carbohydrates high in fibre. Fibre assists the GI of the carbohydrate to be lower. Fibre also makes you feel fuller for longer which and aids in healthy digestion.
5. Avoid hidden sugar
Your favourite foods (even the savoury ones) might be full of “hidden sugar”. So how can we tell? Simply by reading the food label. The ingredients list could be your first clue to the sugar content of a product, as ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Look out for synonyms for sugar including sucrose, corn syrup, dextrose or fructose. A general rule is that sugar should not be one of the first three ingredients on the list.
The nutritional information table will also indicate the amount of total sugar found in the product per 100g and per serving. This is a quick reference to ensure you don’t break the bank with only one serving.
6. Flavour food without sugar
Add other flavourings, herbs and spices like cinnamon, mint and lemon juice to increase the flavour of foods instead of sugar.
7. Switch to non-nutritive sweeteners
There are many no- or low-calorie sweeteners on the market that have shown to be save for adult consumption in moderate amounts. These sweeteners have almost no effect on blood glucose levels and contribute no calories to your daily intake. Replacing sugar with sweeteners can help you control your blood glucose levels and weight.
8. Do not skip meals
By having smaller, regular meals and snacks you ensure that your blood glucose levels remain stable. This in turn will reduce the risk of cravings and as we know, cravings can lead to binging on unhealthy, often high sugar foods.
9. Limit alcohol consumption
Alcohol has a high calorie content which is increased further when alcohol is mixed with sugar sweetened beverages. It is recommended that women consume not more than 1 unit of alcohol and men no more than 2 units a day. One unit of alcohol refers to 25ml of spirits, 125ml of wine or 200ml of beer. If you are consuming alcohol, limit your intake and choose options that are not mixed with sugar sweetened beverages.
10. Include healthy fats
Yes, fats can be healthy too. Healthy, unsaturated fats including avocados, nuts, seeds, plant oils and olives have also help to lower the GI of a meal. And replacing unhealthy fats (animal fat, butter, cheese etc.) with healthy fats can reduce your risk for heart disease6. Just keep portion size in mind, as all fats have a high calorie content and consuming too much fats (even the healthy fats) can cause weight gain.
FUTURELIFE® has two zero added cane sugar Smart food™ options- FUTURELIFE® ZERO Smart food™ and FUTURELIFE® ZERO Smart food™ with Oats. Both these products contain ZERO added cane sugar and are sweetened with a blend of non-nutritive sweeteners, erythritol and sucralose. FUTURELIFE® ZERO Smart food™ and FUTURELIFE® ZERO Smart food™ with Oats are both endorsed by Diabetes South Africa and are endorsed as an “often food” by GIFSA.
Other key benefits of FUTURELIFE® ZERO Smart food™ and FUTURELIFE® ZERO Smart food™ with Oats:
- High in protein
- Low GI
- High in vitamins and minerals
- Smart food™ is made with Smart Maize™ which is a unique maize cooked using a patented method to maintain the whole grain qualities of the maize, making it high in fibre.
- Gluten free (FUTURELIFE® ZERO Smart food™ only)
- Contains MODUCARE® (a daily immune supplement)
Both these products are convenient as they mix instantly with water and can be consumed as a meal or a snack any time of the day.
Although most of us like a sweet treat, South Africans are consuming much more sugar than what is recommended for a healthy lifestyle. This has contributed to the health deterioration of the nation with concerning statistics regarding diabetes and heart disease. Individuals can reduce their risk of these diseases by reducing the amount of sugar in their diet. Consuming a low sugar, low GI diet has many health benefits including controlled blood glucose levels which leads to sustained energy. By implementing simple changes in your lifestyle, you can reduce the amount of sugar you consume- improving your health and reducing your risk for overweight, diabetes and heart disease.
- World Health Organization. 2020. Healthy diet article: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/healthy-diet#:~:text=fruit%20and%20vegetables.-,Sugars,dental%20caries%20(tooth%20decay).
- University of the Witwatersrand. 2016. Facts about sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and obesity in South Africa: https://www.wits.ac.za/news/latest-news/research-news/2016/2016-04/ssb-tax-home/sugar-facts/#:~:text=South%20Africans%20consume%20between%2012,eight%20teaspoons%20are%20from%20SSBs.
- Western Cape Government. 2022. Obesity: Is your waistline killing you? https://www.westerncape.gov.za/general-publication/obesity-your-waistline-killing-you#:~:text=Obesity%20stats%20in%20South%20Africa,including%20diabetes%20and%20heart%20disease.
- International Diabetes Federation. 2022. With 1 in 9 adults living with diabetes, South Africa has highest diabetes prevalence in Africa. https://www.idf.org/index.php?option=com_attachments&task=download&id=2642:WDD2021_SOUTH_AFRICA_PR_Final#:~:text=The%20diabetes%20prevalence%20in%20South,an%20estimated%207.2%20billion%20USD.