“Refined sugar is sugar that is extracted from sugar cane, sugar beets and corn and has undergone food processing.
It is very easy for the body to ‘make use’ of refined sugar. This is because, when it is consumed, it hits the bloodstream quickly and results in a rush of energy, which may be followed by a ‘crash’ depending on how much is consumed and with what other foods may have been eaten.
Refined sugars include cane sugar, brown sugar, corn sweetener or syrup, fruit juice concentrate, malt sugar or anything ending in “ose” such as fructose, dextrose, and sucrose
Refined versus natural food sugars.
Refined sugars are different from sugars which occur naturally in foods. For example, the sugar you will find in a soft drink (refined sugar), is different to the sugar that you find in fruit (natural sugar). The sugars in fruit act very differently when consumed, because they are naturally packaged in the food along with vitamins, minerals and fibre. Fibre helps to slow down the digestion of foods and the release of energy, making the intake of sugar from these foods more manageable. To learn more about fibre and how to get more of it, you can check out our article on high fibre here.
It’s hard to overdose on sugar if it is in a fruit - have you tried to eat four or five oranges one after another? But if we squeeze the oranges and remove the fibre and turn it into juice it is easy to consume those five oranges. This is one example of how refined sugar differs from natural sugars.
Why should I aim to reduce my intake of refined sugar?
Refined sugar is often added to food products for many reasons, and can be very difficult to avoid. Many packaged food products in our supermarkets have added sugars - making it very easy to over-consume sugar throughout the day.
If we overload our bodies with too much refined sugar, more often than not our bodies struggle to use up all of the energy we have consumed. Any sugar that we don’t use is converted to fat, which can result in a gradual widening of our waistline. Having a diet high in refined sugars has other consequences too; it can lead to tooth decay, heart problems and type 2 diabetes. Some reports show that people become more irritable, tired and ‘foggy’ throughout the day by eating too much refined sugar - especially when combined with an unhealthy diet..
If you do decide to reduce your refined sugar intake, take note of how you feel after cutting down on high-sugar foods; you may find you have more energy and mental clarity.
Which foods are high in refined sugar?
There are the obvious sources of refined sugar, which include cakes, candies and ice creams. However many so called savoury foods have added sugar too, such as sauces, salad dressings, premade foods (including salads!) and white breads.
What are some dietary changes I could make to lower my refined sugar intake?
Healthy eating is all about making small tweaks to the way we eat each day. The changes don’t have to be drastic; rather, we can look at the foods which are already a part of our routine and make small swaps and changes to improve our intake. This makes achieving our goals in the long term more likely, as the adjustments we are making are more realistic and less overwhelming.
To reduce your intake of refined sugar, the first easy swap to make involves our choice of drinks. Many of us know that soft drinks such as colas are high in sugar. However, fruit juices often have just as much refined sugar as fizzy drinks. If juice is a regular part of your routine which you are reluctant to get rid of, try diluting your glass with some water to reduce the amount of sugar hitting the bloodstream.
Yoghurts, breakfast cereals and packaged snacks tend to have added sugar. Wherever possible, opt for natural, unflavoured yoghurt and look for ‘low sugar’ cereals and snacks. Even better, reach for a nut mix instead of a cereal bar. To discover a wide variety of low sugar options, visit www.myWellabee.com and explore the ‘no added sugar’ and ‘refined sugar free’ tags.
Expert tip: Traditional Greek yoghurt is naturally high in protein and low in sugar. If you can, try to opt for these – they can be worth the extra cost. But, make sure to read the label properly; ‘Greek-Style’ yoghurts are different to Greek yoghurts, and likely won’t have the same health benefits.
A great example of a low sugar cereal is oats, which are naturally low in sugar and high in fibre. Porridge doesn’t have to be boring! Try adding different toppings such as nut butters and fruits until you find a combo that you love.
When you are craving something sweet, try opting for a piece of fruit, rather than chocolate. Freezing fruit can make for a great snack; frozen grapes taste delicious and can be a good replacement for candy.
Last but not least, keep an eye on your intake of premade sauces and salad dressings. It may be a matter of making your own vinaigrette or pasta sauce from scratch, for example, instead of purchasing it. The more that we prepare foods at home using fresh ingredients, the more likely we are to reduce our intake of added sugars!
References & Resources:
Heart Foundation of New Zealand – The Truth About Sugar
World Health Organisation - Healthy Diet
British Nutrition Foundation – Sugars
Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada – Reduce Sugar
NHS UK – How to Cut Down on your Sugar Intake