Let’s talk about sugar
Written by Ravinder Bassi, Dietitian, South Asian Health

Starting off the year with plans to reduce your sugar consumption? Get answers to common questions about sugar and healthy snack ideas with less added sugar.

With the start of the New Year, many of us have exercise and healthy eating at the top of our list of resolutions. Healthy eating includes limiting sugar and choosing healthy snacks.

There is a lot of confusion about ‘natural’ sugars versus processed/refined sugar. Is one better than the other? What can I eat that is sweet, but still healthy?

Let’s start by answering some of these common questions.

What is the difference between added sugar and natural sugar? Where are they found?

Added sugars are sugars and syrups added to food during processing or preparation. They are found in food such as granola bars, flavoured yogurts, muffins, cakes, cookies, donuts and ice cream. Most of these foods offer very little nutrients and can be high in sugar and fat. When eaten daily, they can lead to weight gain and increase risk of chronic disease.

Natural sugars occur naturally in food. They are found in foods that undergo little to no processing such as plain yogurt and milk, fruit, and some grains and have shorter ingredient lists than highly processed foods. These foods tend to be higher in nutrients (like protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber) and therefore help keep you full longer. They can also help with blood sugar control if you have diabetes.

What are some healthy snack ideas to limit my sugar consumption?

You don’t need to avoid sweet foods altogether, but where possible aim to replace processed and refined sugars with naturally occurring sugars. For example, get plain yogurt and add your own fruit, instead of buying sweetened yogurt. Or combine the items in a blender for a healthy smoothie.

Another option is to make your own baked goods. This gives you control over the ingredients and the amount of sugar. For example, you could make a batch of healthy muffins, put them in the freezer and take one out whenever you need a snack.

Here are some other healthy, but sweet snack ideas:

  • Trail mix – add dried raisins or cranberries and even a bit of chocolate as a treat.
  • Yogurt parfait – top plain yogurt with cut up fruit and granola. Add almonds or walnuts for extra protein and crunch.
  • Cookies – make your own or choose low-sugar brands such as Social Tea or Arrowroot. Keep your limit to two.
  • Granola bars – choose ones with less than 10 grams of sugar. Avoid chocolate covered bars.

How much sugar are you eating?

You can figure out how many teaspoons of sugar you are eating by dividing the grams of sugar (found on the nutrition label) by 4. For example, a can of pop, which can contain up to 40 grams of sugar, when divided by 4 is close to 10 teaspoons of sugar. For foods like yogurt, the grams of sugar also contain naturally occurring sugars – so if you are curious, compare a plain yogurt to a flavoured yogurt to find the difference.

Next time you pick up a packaged food item, read the label. You might be surprised at the amount of sugar hiding in some of your favourite foods.

Read more the full article in the latest issue of Drishti magazine.

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