10 ways to improve your nutritional health as you age:#8. Reduce sugar consumption

Simple sugars are a type of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are one of the three basic macronutrients — the other two being protein and fat. Simple sugars are found naturally in fruits and milk, or they can be produced commercially and added to foods to sweeten, prevent spoilage, or improve structure and texture. Sugars and refined grains that have been stripped of all bran, fiber, and nutrients, such as white bread, pizza dough, pasta, pastries, white flour, white rice, sweet desserts, and many breakfast cereals. They digest quickly and their high glycemic index causes unhealthy spikes in blood sugar levels. (This is essentially the difference between a glass of filtered orange juice devoid of fibre and the orange itself, full of fibre and thus is digested more slowly enabling the body to avoid ‘sugar highs’!) They can also cause fluctuations in mood and energy and a build-up of fat, especially around your waistline. What is preferable is to eat more complex carbohydrates which are digested more slowly and supply a lower more steady release of glucose into the blood stream. For more information have a look at Feast and Famine – Intermittent Fasting to lose weight (?) 2022 – Covid-19 still with us but so is those extra Pounds/Kilos!!

Our love of sweat things is literally built into our DNA – mother’s milk is sweat and we learn to love sweat things from thereon in! However we can form ‘sweat habits’ – sugar in tea and coffee and sugary pop. We can train ourselves off as anyone who had sugary tea as a child and now doesn’t add any. Rather than having a complete change of diet I’d recommend a gradual withdrawal and always taste before adding sugar and then only the minimum. Sugar substitutes are available but can actually trick the body into thinking sugar is being eaten and get the juices flowing to digest what sugar there is – and sugar is pretty much everywhere in our diets and too much gets stored as fats etc. 

Sugar’s many guises

There are lots of different ways added sugar can be listed on ingredients labels:


  • glucose                 
  • sucrose
  • fructose
  • maltose
  • fruit juice
  • molasses
  • hydrolysed starch
  • invert sugar
  • corn syrup
  • honey

Nutrition labels tell you how much sugar a food contains:

  • high in sugar – 22.5g or more of total sugar per 100g
  • low in sugar – 5g or less of total sugar per 100g

Some packaging uses a colour-coded system that makes it easy to choose foods that are lower in sugar, salt and fat. Look for more “greens” and “ambers”, and fewer “reds”, in your shopping basket.

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1. Stop adding sugar to tea, coffee, cereal and porridge

Swapping coffee with sugar for coffee without sugar

Do you add sugar to your breakfast cereal or to sweeten hot drinks?

Cutting out just a teaspoon of added sugar every day can make a difference. Remember that honey and syrup are still sugar too. 

If you skip a teaspoon of sugar more than once a day (for example if you stop sugar in your tea and on your cereal), then you can multiply the effects below.

Sugar saved in 3 months: 90 teaspoons

Calories saved in 3 months: 1,440 calories – the equivalent of 6 standard size (45g) chocolate bars

2. Replace sugary cereals with plain wholegrain cereals

Exchanging your daily bowl of sugary cereal for wholegrain cereal with no added sugar

Many breakfast cereals contain sugar – even the ones you might not immediately think of as sugary. And remember, if they make health claims such as “high in fibre” or “with added vitamins”, that doesn’t mean they’re not high in sugar. 

So swap your daily bowl of sugary cereal for wholegrain cereal with no added sugar – check the ingredients list to make sure yours comes without added sugar. If your new cereal seems a bit boring at first, add natural sweetness with fresh fruit like banana, berries or grapes.

Sugar saved in 3 months: 209 teaspoons

Calories saved in 30 months: 3,344 calories – the equivalent of 14 standard size (45g) chocolate bars

3. Swap sugary cola for diet

Swapping sugary cola for diet

Phera Laster / Via Flickr

Swapping a can of cola for a diet or sugar-free cola every day could cut back your sugar intake by more than a kilo a month – that’s a whole bag of sugar. 

Sugar saved in 3 months: 796 teaspoons

Calories saved in 3 months: 12,649 calories or 52 standard chocolate bars

4. Swap sugary squash or cordial for the no-added-sugar kind

Swapping sugary squash or cordial for the no-added-sugar kind

You might not think of still drinks like squash or cordial as being sugary – especially if it comes with claims about the fruit content – but many are high in sugar. Watch out for flavoured waters, which can be sugary culprits too. 

If you’re in the habit of drinking a 250 ml glass of cordial each day, swapping for no-added-sugar could save you:

Sugar saved in 3 months: 555 teaspoons

Calories saved in 3 months: 8,880 calories or 37 chocolate bars

5. Swap low-fat fruit yoghurts for low-fat natural yoghurts

Swapping flavoured low-fat yoghurt for plain low-fat yoghurt

A yoghurt might be “low fat” or even “fat free”, but if it’s flavoured, the chances are it will contain added sugar. Plain or natural yoghurt still contains some sugar, but these are milk sugars found naturally in the milk it’s made from, and come with nutrients such as calcium. 

If you have a daily 150g pot of low-fat yogurt (or even one that’s not low-fat) every day, swapping for low-fat natural yoghurt could save you:

Sugar saved in 3 months: 351 teaspoons

Calories saved in 3 months: 5,616 calories or 23 chocolate bars

6. Choose tins of fruit in juice rather than syrup

Replacing tinned fruit cocktail in syrup with tinned fruit cocktail in juice

Reyhan Dhuny / Isabelle Boucher / Via Flickr

Tinned fruit can be a quick and convenient way to contribute to your 5-a-day, but make sure you get the kind that’s tinned in natural juice rather than syrup. 

If you have tinned fruit cocktail in syrup three times a week, swapping for the kind in juice could save you:

Sugar saved in 3 months: 104 teaspoons

Calories saved in 3 months: 1,664 calories or 7 chocolate bars

If you do all 6 of these things you could save:

Sugar saved in 3 months: 2,105 teaspoons

Calories saved in 3 months: 33,593 calories or 141 chocolate bars

RELATED LINKS

More useful information

https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/nutrition/sugar-salt-and-fat/sugar-in-different-foods

Iced donut

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Breakfast

Many breakfast cereals are high in sugar. Try switching to lower-sugar cereals or those with no added sugar, such as:

  • plain porridge
  • plain wholewheat cereal biscuits
  • plain shredded wholegrain pillows

Swapping a bowl of sugary breakfast cereal for plain cereal could cut out 70g of sugar (up to 22 sugar cubes) from your diet over a week.

Porridge oats are cheap and contain vitamins, minerals and fibre. Make porridge with semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk, or water.

If you usually add sugar to your porridge, try adding a few chopped dried apricots or a sliced or mashed banana instead. Or you could try our apple-pie porridge recipe.

For a more gradual approach, you could eat sugary cereals and plain cereals on alternate days, or mix both in the same bowl.

If you add sugar to your cereal, you could try adding less. Or you could eat a smaller portion and add some chopped fruit, such as a pear or banana, which is an easy way of getting some of your 5 A Day.

Read our guide to choosing healthy breakfast cereals.

If toast is your breakfast staple, try wholemeal or granary bread, which is higher in fibre than white bread, and see if you can get by with a little less of your usual spreads like jam, marmalade, honey or chocolate. Or you could try sugar-free or lower-sugar options.

Main meals

Many foods that we don’t consider to be sweet contain a surprisingly large amount of sugar. Some ready-made soups, stir-in sauces and ready meals can also be higher in sugar than you think.

A third of an average-sized jar of pasta sauce (roughly 150g) can contain more than 13g of sugar, including added sugar – the equivalent of 3 teaspoons of sugar.

When eating out or buying takeaways, watch out for dishes that are typically high in sugar, such as sweet and sour dishes, sweet chilli dishes and some curry sauces, as well as salads with dressings like salad cream, which can also be high in sugar.

Condiments and sauces such as ketchup can have as much as 23g of sugar in 100g – roughly half a teaspoon per serving. These foods are usually served in small quantities, but the sugar count can add up if eaten every day.

Snacks

Healthier snack options are those without added sugar, such as fruit (fresh, tinned or frozen), unsalted nuts, unsalted rice cakes, oatcakes, or homemade plain popcorn.

If you’re not ready to give up your favourite flavours, you could start by having less. Instead of 2 biscuits in 1 sitting, try having 1. If your snack has 2 bars, have 1 and share the other, or save it for another day.

If you’re an “all-or-nothing” type person, you could find something to do to take your mind off food on some days of the week.

When shopping, look out for lower-sugar (and lower-fat) versions of your favourite snacks. Buy smaller packs, or skip the family bags and just go for the normal-sized one instead.

Here are some lower-calorie substitutes for popular snacks:

  • cereal bars – despite their healthy image, many cereal bars can be high in sugar and fat. Look out for bars that are lower in sugar, fat and salt.
  • chocolate – swap for a lower-calorie hot instant chocolate drink. You can also get chocolate with coffee and chocolate with malt varieties.
  • biscuits – swap for oatcakes, oat biscuits, or unsalted rice cakes, which also provide fibre.
  • cakes – swap for a plain currant bun, fruit scone, or malt loaf. If you add toppings or spreads, use them sparingly or choose lower-fat and lower-sugar varieties.

Dried fruit, such as raisins, dates and apricots, is high in sugar and can be bad for your dental health because it sticks to your teeth.

To prevent tooth decay, dried fruit is best enjoyed at mealtimes – as part of a dessert, for example – rather than as a snack.

Drinks

Nearly a quarter of the added sugar in our diets comes from sugary drinks, such as fizzy drinks, sweetened juices, squashes, and cordials.

A 500ml bottle of cola contains the equivalent of 17 cubes of sugar. Try sugar-free varieties, or – better yet – water, lower-fat milk, or soda water with a splash of fruit juice.

If you take sugar in tea or coffee, gradually reduce the amount until you can cut it out altogether, or try swapping to sweeteners instead. Try some new flavours with herbal teas, or make your own with hot water and a slice of lemon or ginger.

Like some fizzy drinks, fruit juice can be high in sugar. When juice is extracted from the whole fruit to make fruit juice, sugar is released, and this can damage your teeth.

Your combined total of drinks from fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies should not be more than 150ml a day – which is a small glass. For example, if you have 150ml of orange juice and 150ml smoothie in one day, you’ll have exceeded the recommendation by 150ml.

Fruit juices and smoothies do contain vitamins and minerals and can count towards your 5 A Day. However they can only ever count as a maximum of 1 portion of your 5 A Day. For example, if you have 2 glasses of fruit juice and a smoothie in 1 day, that still only counts as 1 portion.

You could try flavouring water with a slice of lemon, lime, or a splash of fruit juice. But watch out for the sugar content in flavoured water drinks: a 500ml glass of some brands contains 15g of sugar – nearly 4 teaspoons of sugar.

Dessert

Work out some ground rules. Do you need to have dessert every day? How about only having dessert after your evening meal, or only eating dessert on odd days of the month, or only on weekends, or only at restaurants?

Do you have to have chocolate, biscuits, and cake every day? If you had this type of sugary snack less often, would you actually enjoy it more?

Less sugary desserts include fruit – fresh, frozen, dried, or tinned, but choose those canned in juice rather than syrup – as well as lower-fat and lower-sugar rice pudding, and plain lower-fat yoghurt.

However, lower fat doesn’t necessarily mean low sugar. Some lower-fat yoghurts can be sweetened with refined sugar, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, and fructose syrup.

If you’re stuck between choosing 2 desserts at the supermarket, why not compare the labels on both packages and go for the 1 with the lower amount of sugar.

 

Get started cutting down on sugar with these tips:

  • Toss the table sugar (white and brown), syrup, honey and molasses. Cut back on the amount of sugar added to things you eat or drink regularly like cereal, pancakes, coffee or tea. Try cutting the usual amount of sugar you add by half and wean down from there.
  • Swap out the soda. Water is best, but if you want something sweet to drink or are trying to lose weight, diet drinks can be a better choice than sugary drinks.
  • Eat fresh, frozen, dried or canned fruits. Choose fruit canned in water or natural juice. Avoid fruit canned in syrup, especially heavy syrup. Drain and rinse in a colander to remove excess syrup or juice.
  • Compare food labels and choose products with the lowest amounts of added sugars. Dairy and fruit products will contain some natural sugars. Added sugars can be identified in the ingredients list.
  • Add fruitInstead of adding sugar to cereal or oatmeal, try fresh fruit (bananas, cherries or strawberries) or dried fruit (raisins, cranberries or apricots).
  • Cut the serving back. When baking cookies, brownies or cakes, cut the sugar called for in your recipe by one-third to one-half. Often you won’t notice the difference.
  • Try extracts. Instead of adding sugar in recipes, use extracts like almond, vanilla, orange or lemon.
  • Replace it completely. Enhance foods with spices instead of sugar. Try ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg.
  • Substitute. Switch out sugar with unsweetened applesauce in recipes (use equal amounts).
  • Limit Non-nutritive SweetenersIf you are trying to lose weight, a temporary fix to satisfying your sweet tooth may be with non-nutritive sweeteners. But watch out! Make sure that swapping sugary options for non-nutritive sweeteners now doesn’t lead to eating more later.

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