I am sure many of you have read about sugar in the news recently. It is a topic that comes up a lot in my work as a nutritionist. Clearly there is a bit of confusion around the topic … one of the comments that I hear on a frequent basis is “Oh I avoid fruit because it’s too high in sugar” … so I thought I would try and shed some light on the matter.
It has recently been highlighted that “free sugar” is overconsumed in the UK diet, and we should aim to minimise this intake due to its negative implications on health - “free sugar” is very similar to “added sugar” so includes any sugar added to foods, but it also includes sugar from honey, fruit juices and syrups. This does NOT include sugar naturally found in milk or whole fruit.
Don’t give up on your 5-a-day just yet …
Yes fruit contains sugar, but not nearly as much as some high sugar foods. If you are choosing to limit your sugar intake for dietary reasons, you can easily choose lower sugar options - think blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries (spot a common theme there!? Go for berries!). Generally you can also tell which fruits are higher in sugar than others by how sweet they are.
Secondly whole fruit is also a good source of fibre. Fibre helps to slow the release of sugars in the bloodstream. This means you don’t get a spike in blood sugar and insulin, helping to maintain your blood sugar and therefore energy levels … quite a different story to drinking a sugar sweetened drink!
Lastly fruit is also a great source of micronutrients which have essential functions in the body. For example Vitamin C found in many fruits, including citrus fruits, has an important role in immune health, and has great antioxidant properties too.
What you should be looking out for
Food labelling can be confusing (look out for a blog on this in the future!). Unfortunately labelling doesn’t currently distinguish between free sugars and naturally occurring sugar, so it can be quite difficult to tell where the sugar is coming from.
To get an idea of how much sugar is in the product, take a look at the nutrition panel on the back of the packaging and look for “of which sugars” underneath the carbohydrates section. This will tell you how much sugar is in the product. Traffic light labelling on the front of pack can also indicate the total amount of sugar in the product too. (Hint: make sure you look at sugar content per portion, not per 100g).
Second you need to take a look at the ingredients list to see where this sugar is coming from. If the product contains any milk derivative (milk, whey, milk proteins) it is likely to have some milk sugars in their too – as above, you don’t need to worry about these. If the product contains fruits, it will contain fruit sugars. Generally this is ok too, but just beware that dried fruit, or products with a lot of whole fruit are likely to have a lot of sugar in them, so try to limit these a bit. What you need to look out for is sugar (this includes the sciency names that some manufacturers put on to try and cover up … look out for words ending in “ose” e.g. glucose, sucrose, dextrose, fructose) and also look out for syrups (e.g. corn syrup) and fruit juice concentrates.
I hope that helps clear up any confusion … now go and enjoy a nice handful of blueberries!!