We have been hearing a lot about how added sugar is not good for our health and the harmful ways in which it affects our body. We can link high sugar consumption to obesity, heart problems and other body malfunctions too. We have also come across statements such as ‘sugar addiction is as harmful as cocaine addiction’ and that they both have the same effect on our brain. We know that we should quit the consumption of artificial sugar but nobody really talks about how to go about the process. We spoke to Shalini Singhal, Nutritionist and Dietician to tell you the ways this can be achieved.
Team MH: Added sugar is present in almost all food items that we eat, like coke and bread. What can be done about them?
Shalini Singhal: Yes, sugar is there in many processed food items and you need to read 'food ingredient list' which is available on every packed food label. Look for ingredients like sugar, table sugar, fructose, fruit pulp, fruit concentrate, cane sugar, maple syrup, corn syrup, jaggery and honey. Even if the packaging says ‘no added sugar,’ look at the ingredient list. If you see fruit pulp, concentrate or puree, that is sugar! You also need to check the item’s Nutrition Facts panel. You may be shocked to find that your ‘no added sugar’ juice or candy has 40 grams (10 teaspoons) of ‘natural’ sugar per serving. Anything with that much sugar is not healthy to consume in a single serving. Avoid all such food items, if your goal is to restrict sugar in your diet.
Team MH: Is it healthy to quit sugar all at once? Or should the process happen gradually and slowly?
Shalini Singhal: It is fine to remove added sugar from your diet at once. Yes, there's no harm unless you feel low and weak. You need to ideally replace a sugary food item with a high fibre food item like fresh fruit or cereals such as whole grains, whole wheat, oats, millets, brown rice, etc. If someone finds it difficult to quit all sugar at once, I generally advise to reduce it by 50% and then gradually come to the minimum.
Team MH: When trying to quit sugar, is it ok to eat fruits, especially fruits with high sugar quantities such as pineapple and watermelon?
Shalini Singhal: Yes, fruits are the healthiest alternative to sugar and sugary things. Besides they provide you with fibre, many essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and hydrate you as well. Besides all this, they give you the same satiety in much lesser calories.
Team MH: Why should we quit added sugar in the first place? Is it a good idea?
Shalini Singhal: Yes, sugar is the new tobacco. Sugar-laden diet is more harmful than a high-fat and high-cholesterol diet, the latest evidence-based research suggests so. They are empty calories with no additional nutrients in it.
Team MH: What are some of the ways that we can make sure we don’t consume added sugar?
Shalini Singhal: 1. Do not add sugar to your tea, coffee, milk or other beverages which we have daily and multiple times in a day.
2. Avoid sweets, desserts, chocolates, candies, jams, jellies, sugary soft drinks, packed juices, biscuits and sweet bakery items.
3. Read all food labels for ingredients carefully before picking up packed food items from the supermarket/grocers.
4. Fresh fruit juices also are a source of concentrated sugar so its best to avoid. Have whole fruits instead.
Team MH: Can you tell us about some of the alternative food items that can be added to the food instead of sugar?
Shalini Singhal: 1. Fresh fruits are the best, convenient and cheapest alternative. You can add diced fruit or grated fruit pulp to desserts.
2. In milk, adding a pinch of cinnamon, cardamom powder and some fennel seeds can give a sweet taste.
3. Adding raisins, figs, dates and other sweet dry fruits to your desserts, cereals, milk etc is a great alternative.