fact that many people with diabetes seem
to use it to counter low blood sugars.
As most of us are aware, there's too
much sugar in sugary drinks, yet on the
other hand some of us rely on that sugar
to help us out when we've overdone either
the insulin or the exercise. In my opinion,
reducing sugar is (overall) good news, but
doing it by 'stealth' is not.
Personally, my bigger concern is that
sugar is being stealthily introduced, and
often being passed off as a health feature.
On-pack messaging tells us that items are
'innocent' and so on, but it seems to me
that the healthier the claim, the less likely
the truth of the statement. While not much
of this will be news to most people with
diabetes, I've found it to be an interesting
refresher as to how to handle diabetes in
a world that seems ever more confusing
when it comes to healthy food choices.
I have to say that this feature has been
like opening a tin of (sugary) worms and
let's start with the first point, which is that
sugar is not a medical term, which is why
we test for blood glucose (although we
talk about 'blood sugar'). Simple sugars
digest quickly and raise blood sugar
levels rapidly. A low-sugar diet is now
being recommended for anyone, not just
people with diabetes, as well as a general
push towards having a low amount of
carbohydrates ('low-carbing') also being
As with anything, 'low' is a question of
scale. How do you measure low or high
What is sugar?
Sugar is a sweet crystalline substance obtained from various plants, especially sugar
cane and sugar beet, consisting of sucrose. It is used as a sweetener in food and
drink and also to add texture, flavour and increase shelf life. Sugar is a carbohydrate
along with starch.
There are two main types of sugar, those that are contained in the cellular structure
of foods and drinks and naturally present in dairy products (these are intrinsic sugars
and you don't need to limit them), and those that are 'free' or 'added sugars' such
as the sugar added to food, and the sugars naturally present in honey, fruit juice and
syrups. These should be limited to no more than 5% of energy intake 3.
What are "free sugars"?
Free sugars are the sugars that the World Health Organization says need to be limited
to no more than 5% of total calories. These are the sugars added to foods, and
the sugars naturally present in honey, fruit juice and syrups. There are surprisingly
large amounts of free sugars in everyday foods and drinks, which are either added
by manufacturers (such as fructose, sucrose, glucose and corn sugar) or added at
home; for example, on cereal, hot drinks and whilst cooking.
A typical orange juice has more free sugars in it than a cola, but an orange eaten
whole has no free sugars because the sugars it has in it are tied to the fruit, fibre and
so on and are therefore not "free"
Naturally occurring sugar is the sugar found in whole, unprocessed foods, such
as milk, fruit, vegetables and some grains. The most common natural sugars are
fructose, which is found in fruit, and lactose, which is found in milk products.4
Added sugar is the sugar added to processed food and drinks when they are being
made, as well as sugar you may add to your food at home.3
No more than 5% of people's (from 2 years old and above) daily energy intake should
come from free sugars. This is a new recommendation announced by the World
Health Organization in March 2015.
Nutrition labels do not tell you how much free sugars there are in the product. You
can only tell if the food contains free sugars by checking the ingredients list. Or a
Sugarwise certified product, all of which are within the guidelines on free sugars. A
food containing lots of fruit or milk may not have any free sugars in it and therefore
be a healthier choice than one that contains lots of added free sugars in the form
of sugar, honey or juice. In this case the two products may contain the same total
amount of sugars.
What is classified as a sugar on nutrition labels?
The sugars figure in the nutrition label is the total amount of sugars in the food. It
includes sugars from fruit and milk, as well as the sugars that have been added.
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