Losing weight is probably the most popular New Year Resolution.

But before you stock up on ‘low fat’ foods, do you know what to look for?

Fruit is a ‘goodie’, but even these have different calorie counts:-

Low-Carb Berries

But nutrionists tell us we should vary the fruit we eat, as all have different benefits.  Same with vegetables – the more we eat every day the better.

Beware when the label tells you ‘Lower Sugar’

‘Reduced sugar’ or ‘lower sugar’ is not the same as low in sugar. Always check the ingredients and nutrition details on the label.  Learn to understand labels.

‘Hidden’ sugars are one of worst culprits. Sugar gives added taste to foods.  Sneaky manufacturers often add this to Ready Meals, both sweet and savoury, to make these taste better.

On average, we eat 70% more sugar than the recommended daily amount. We know cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks etc. are full of sugar, but do you know how much sugar is hiding in ‘health’ foods. Here’s what to look out for

According to the NHS:

  • 22.5g or more of total sugars per 100g = high
  • 5g or less of total sugars per 100g = low

When ‘low fat’ = high sugar

When manufacturers reduce fat to make ‘low-‘ or ‘no-fat’ products, they often add sugar to compensate and make the product more appealing. This can mean some ‘low-fat’ foods contain more than six times the amount of sugar than their ‘full-fat’ counterparts.

Experts warn some low-fat yoghurts, particularly fruity ones, could contribute to obesity, tooth decay and other health problems due to their high sugar content. Choose yoghurt with no added sugar and add fresh fruit for your sweet tooth, if needed.

Rice cakes are a low-fat snack, but when covered in yoghurt or chocolate, they become a sugar-laden treat.

Some other sneaky habits

There’s no legal definition for ‘natural’, but when it says ‘natural sugars’ on the label, most consumers think this means that the sugar in a food is better or healthier than other sugars. Be aware …….

Honey contains some vitamins and minerals, but 1 teaspoon of honey is equivalent to 6 grams of sugar;  yet 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar = 4 grams! . Honey does taste slightly sweeter, so you might be able to use less of it to get the same amount of sweetness, but if you use the same amount it is not a low-sugar option.

Maple syrup – often found in North American cooking, might contain fewer additives than some sugars, but it is still sugar.

Agave syrup is a relative newcomer to the ‘natural’ sugar scene, but it is derived using a similar method to sugar cane or beet. When the plant is processed into syrup, any healthy, naturally occurring enzymes are transformed into fructose.

Fruit juice is classed as a free sugar and is added to products as such. As a drink, it comes packaged with vitamins and minerals.  If drunk in moderation (150ml glass) with a meal, it helps you to get your 5-a-day..

Dried fruits are often used as sweeteners – these can be high in sugar content.

Other names to look for on labels are glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, molasses, hydrolysed starch, maltodextrin and high fructose corn syrup.  All names used to disguise that the food contains plain, ordinary, fattening sugar!

Sugar at breakfast

Cereal. It’s easy to fall for marketing ploys plastered all over the packet such as  ‘natural’, ‘simple’, ‘authentic’, ‘high-fibre’ cereals, particularly granola. But this is to distract  from their high-sugar content. ‘Serving’ sizes differ from brand to brand, making it difficult to compare how much sugar they contain, and they rarely give a realistic impression of how much someone will eat in one sitting. Always look at the nutritional information per 100g and be aware that if there is sugar in the nutritional information but no sugar or alternative in the ingredients, it is likely to come from dried fruit.

Cereal bars Again beware!  These are often considered to be a healthy, fibre-packed snack, but can be high in sugar. If you grab a bar for breakfast, check the ingredients and nutrition label first

Sugar in enegy bars and drinks

The term ‘high-protein’ has become synonymous with health. However, protein drinks and bars can contain loads of sugar. This is often disguised as ‘natural’ sugar, but don’t be fooled.

In energy bars the name says it all – energy! This means calories and often sugar. Tuck into one of these and you might be getting more than 100% of your daily recimmended sugar intake from a quick snack.

Sports drinks often contain a similar amount of sugar to fizzy drinks. Some contain more than 13 teaspoons per bottle – almost twice the recommended daily amount. These ‘thirst-quenching’ drinks ‘with vitamins and minerals’ to restore energy, are only useful to elite athletes. Beware buzzwords are a distraction to make you think you’re getting a sweet deal.

And what about sweeteners?

Some studies suggest if you eat sweet things, your appetite increases because the brain’s ‘sugar reward’ pathways are activated. Regardless of whether the food or drink is artificially sweetened or not. This can cause you to snack more which makes avoiding sugars harder.

Reducing your sugar intake

Added free sugars should make up no more than 5% of your diet.

Re-educate yourself about where free sugars are,  Learning how to read food labels helps motivate you to reduce sugar intake. Once you have decreased your sugar consumption, over time you will crave less sugar. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. Slowly ease your intake of free sugars to the recommended limits.

Free sugars

Free sugars are the sugars added to foods and drinks by manufacturers, cooks and consumers. As well as sugar, they include honey, syrups and fruit juices. These are the sugars we need to eat less of.

Non-free sugars

Sugars in fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables and dairy products are not free sugars. This is because the fibre and water in these foods slows down your digestion and absorption of the sugars, preventing you from getting a sugar spike. Fibre also limits the amount you can eat because it makes you feel full.

So how much sugar is OK?

Added free sugars should make up no more than 5% of the calories you get from food and drink each day. This is estimated to be 30g, or roughly 7 sugar cubes (7 tsp), per day for those aged 11 and over.

Take time and learn to read labels

Remember these tips.

  1. The higher up ‘sugars’ or sugar products such as ‘natural’ sugars are on an ingredients label, the greater the proportion of sugar in the food.
  2. Sugar has many names, so check the carbohydrates (of which sugars) figure in the nutrition box. Anything above 22.5g of sugar per 100g is classed as high and anything below 5g per 100g is classed as low.
  3. Check out the health claims on packaging. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  4. Fewer than 1% of the seasonal workers carrying out jobs such as fruit-picking were UK nationals (Owen Humphreys/PA)
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