Reading between the headlines – SUGAR

So it has been a while since our last blog post, taking on an MSc whilst working full time may have something to do with that BUT I’ve given myself a kick up the behind and committing to get more up for you all!

Last week I was asking for feedback about recent big food and health stories in the press so far in 2019. So I thought I’d take each one and create a series of blog posts discussing them and giving you some hard facts and figures!

Here are some recent headline topics I’ll be taking you through:

  • TOO MUCH Sugar
  • TOO LITTLE fibre
  • VEGANuary
  • FLEXITARIAN ‘diet’ to feed 10billion people
  • Antibiotic RESISTANCE
  • AVAILABILITY or COST of food or medications post Brexit

First up SUGAR!

Are we eating too much sugar?

In one word, yes. As a country/population/world we consume too much sugar, specifically REFINED sugar, which can contribute to poor health (WHO, 2015). Sugar sends our tastes buds and brains into a spin of excitement (Lee & Owyang, 2017). However, just saying “eat less” is not very helpful if you don’t know where it is hiding.


Have you ever found yourself looking at a food label thinking;

What is refined sugar?

Is it different to added or ‘free’ sugar?

Is free sugar the same as sugar free?

What about natural sugar?

Are sweeteners better then, if they are not made from sugar?


All valid questions, so here is a quick rundown on the sugar front, starting with carbohydrates one of the three main MACROnutrients along with protein and fat:

COMPLEX CARBS = multiple simple sugars joined together to form chains. The more complex a sugar is, the more chains there are and so the longer it takes to breakdown and release the sugar into your blood. Therefore, complex carbs are less likely to spike your blood sugar levels.

Examples include wholegrains such as brown rice or whole oats and whole vegetables.

SIMPLE CARBS = one or two sugar molecules that are easily digested meaning they enter your blood stream quickly. Simple sugars are most likely to cause a spike in blood sugar.

Simple carbs are either;

Monosaccharides (one) in the form of GLUCOSE and FRUCTOSE


Disaccharides (two) in the form of SUCROSE and LACTOSE.

Examples include; fizzy & energy drinks, biscuits, sweets, processed cereal, concentrated fruit juice, white bread & pasta, chips – lots of beige food and food type products!


We’ve started to mention specific sugar names above, and you might have noticed that they all end in ‘ose e.g. glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose, you get the picture. However, there are more than 60 names for sugar in one form or another and not all ending in ‘ose which is how we can miss them on labels. Here are some facts about the main versions and where you find them.

GLUCOSE = main source of energy for your body. It’s not very sweet on its own but it is when combined to other types of sugar. When carbohydrates (simple or complex) are broken down in the body they end up as glucose molecules, so you can use it at a cellular level for energy. It is glucose in your blood that is measured when we talk about ‘blood sugar’ levels. Pure glucose spikes your blood sugar quickly.

FRUCTOSE = the sugar in fruit therefore naturally occurring and very sweet to taste (approx. 1.5x sweeter than the sugar you might add to a cuppa!). Fructose levels in different fruits vary, and it is also found in honey, and used to made white sugar (aka sucrose). Does this mean fructose is OK as it’s natural? Well it is also present in high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is added to many food and drink products including fizzy drinks, breakfast cereal and sweets but also those that may be marketed as ‘healthy’ including granola bars. It is highly processed, refined and highly concentrated much more so than in natural sources such as a whole piece of fruit where you also have fibre and nutrients. HFCS is devoid is these nutrients.

Other names used for HFCS include; natural corn syrup, maize syrup, isolated fructose and glucose/fructose syrup – not easy, right?

An important point about FRUCTOSE is, it is absorbed into the bloodstream and broken down by the liver which means it has a far lesser effect on blood sugar levels. Consuming high fructose concentrations (e.g. via HFCS) can overwhelm your liver and has to find a way to store it, in the form of triglycerides a type of fat.

Phew, that was a lot of information there!


SUCROSE = formed of one glucose and one fructose and from the sugar cane plant. This is your common ‘table’ or ‘white’ sugar and breaks down very easily in the body. As a result, it can spike blood sugar levels quickly.

LACTOSE = formed of one glucose and one galactose and present in dairy milk. Once broken down in the body using ‘lactase’ (an enzyme) it can then be absorbed into the blood. Some people struggle to make lactase which can lead to lactose intolerance as they cannot break the lactose sugar down to be digested.


Here are some common terms around sugar and the food we eat;

REFINED SUGAR = anything that has gone through a method of processing that removes impurities but also crucially nutrients. This includes table sugar and corn syrups.

ADDED SUGAR = Anything that isn’t found naturally in the food or any of the ingredients.

FREE SUGARS = Another name for added sugars but also include sugars in honey, syrups such as maple, nectars and unsweetened fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies. The latter is the extracted/processed juice as opposed to eating whole fruits and vegetables.

NO ADDED SUGAR = No refined or added sugars are used to make the food product BUT it may still contain naturally occurring sugar such as fructose OR may have an artificial sweetener added.

UNSWEETENED = In theory, this is the same as No Added Sugar but should not have any added sweeteners.

LITE / LOW OPTIONS = These are supposed to have around 30% less sugar than their ‘normal’ counterparts but still might be higher in sugar than a similar less processed food or drink option.

SUGAR FREE = sounds great doesn’t it? But sugar free does not necessarily mean healthy. Some sugar free food products contain sweeteners such as aspartame, sorbitol, xylitol (the list goes on). Whilst sweeteners are not reported to increase blood sugar levels there is some reports of other potential health effects. It also depends on your health status as to whether sweeteners may be appropriate to include regularly.

NATURAL = those containing fructose or lactose as they occur naturally. These may be added to recipes and state ‘naturally sweetened’.


How much sugar is OK?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) updated its guidance around sugar consumption for adults and children and stated in their 2015 report;

“In both adults and children, WHO recommends reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake (strong recommendation).” (WHO, 2015)


They go on to suggest that further reduction to below 5% of total energy intake should be used. What does that equate to for the average person and what does it look like?

Adult men

5% of a 2,500calories/day total energy recommendation = 125calories = 31.25g free sugars

Adult women

5% of a 2,000calories/day total energy recommendation = 100calories = 25g

Child of 8 years

5% of a 1,500calories/day total energy recommendation = 75calories = 18.75g

Child of 2 years

5% of a 1,200calories/day total energy recommendation = 60calories = 15g

(Zelman, 2008)

To help put into context what how much free sugar is in common food and food products, here are some examples and their free sugar content:

  • One teaspoon of sugar = 4g = 16calories
  • One 330ml can of cola = 35g – Coca-Cola state on their website one 330ml can contains “7% of calories an average adult should eat and drink in a day” (Coca-Cola, 2017).
  • One Oreo cookie = 4.1g (Oreo, 2018)
  • One slice (50g) of Hovis White Bloomer bread = 1.3g (Hovis, 2019)
  • One serving (30g) Robertson’s Golden Shred Marmalade = 8g (Robertson’s, 2019) *main ingredient “Glucose-Fructose Syrup” aka High Fructose Corn Syrup.
  • One 150ml serving of Tropicana Smooth (not from concentrate juice) = 13.4g (Tropicana, 2016)


So, with two slices of white toast and some marmalade you are at 10.6g,

add a glass of orange juice (13.4g)

add black coffee with 1 tsp of sugar (4g)

and you reach 28g of free sugars and it’s only breakfast!


Not all sugar is bad, but our 5 top tips to reduce your free sugar intake are:

  1. Eat whole foods, especially vegetables and fruit to maximise fibre (another blog coming soon on this!) and nutrient content.
  2. Choose unprocessed and unrefined food, so it has as many nutrients and as few a additives as possible.
  3. If eating a ‘food product’, look at the label, does it have more than 5 or 10 ingredients, do you recognise them? If not, do they sound tasty?
  4. If you are relying on simple sugars to ‘perk’ yourself up, chances are you are spiking your blood sugar and a dip won’t be far behind. Repeating this day in day out can have a negative effect on your body’s ability to control your blood sugar, potentially putting you at risk of Type II Diabetes (Wu, Ding, Tanaka, & Zhang, 2014). Using complex carbs in appropriate proportions to proteins and fats with keep you fuller for longer, with more energy (Chandler-Laney et al., 2014).
  5. Fizzy drinks, energy drinks, added syrup shots in coffee and alcohol are all sugar and calorie laden, swapping for water, herbal teas or switching to taking your coffee black could easily reduce your free sugar consumption.


If you are concerned about your blood sugar management or are interested to see if Nutritional Therapy can help your food choices, Contact Us to book a free 20-minute introductory chat with our qualified practitioners.


Further reading

References/Sources Used:

Chandler-Laney, P.C., Morrison, S.A., Goree, L.L.T., Ellis, A.C., Casazza, K., Desmond, R. and Gower, B.A., 2014. Return of hunger following a relatively high carbohydrate breakfast is associated with earlier recorded glucose peak and nadir. Appetite, [online] 80, pp.236–41. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].

Coca-Cola, 2017. Sugar in a 330 ml Can | FAQ | Coca-Cola GB. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].

Hovis, 2019. Bloomer – White | Hovis. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].

Lee, A.A. and Owyang, C., 2017. Sugars, Sweet Taste Receptors, and Brain Responses. Nutrients, [online] 9(7). Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].

Oreo, 2018. Oreo | Original Oreo. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].

Robertsons, 2019. Golden Shred Marmalade. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].

Tropicana, 2016. Classic Orange Smooth. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].

WHO, 2015. Sugars intake for adults and children. [online] Available at: <;jsessionid=ED50501F94DEA7B7576669893578320D?sequence=1> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].

Wu, Y., Ding, Y., Tanaka, Y. and Zhang, W., 2014. Risk factors contributing to type 2 diabetes and recent advances in the treatment and prevention. International journal of medical sciences, [online] 11(11), pp.1185–200. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].

Zelman, K., 2008. How Many Calories Should You Eat? Based on Gender, Age, and Activity Level. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].

Share this:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

nine − 6 =