Sugar has got a bad reputation over the last few years. It’s been seen as the root of all evils – tooth problems, obesity, even cancer. But the truth is our bodies need sugar. Every cell in your body use the sugar from starches, fruits and sugars that you eat for fuel, or stores it for future use. Without sugar, your body would not be able to function. It’s not the actual sugar itself that’s bad for us – that’s keeping us alive! Instead it’s how much we eat, and how much we add, that’s causing the problems.
How Much Sugar Should We Be Eating?
This is a difficult question to answer, since the Government keep changing the amounts. The latest change was in 2014, and at the moment, it is recommended that 11% of a person’s daily calorie intake should come from added sugars. That number goes down to 10% once we remove alcohol from the equation. That works out as 50g of sugar for a woman, and 70g for a man, providing they are active and healthy. And this number to the natural sugar intake, and the rule of thumb is around 90g in total. That is 22.5 spoonfuls of sugar every day. That’s teaspoons by the way, not tablespoons!
But Is That What We Actually Eat?
Not even close. The fact is it’s almost impossible for anyone to accurately calculate how much sugar we are consuming every day. This is mainly because sugar is added into almost every food we eat, including some we don’t even consider having sugar in them. In fact, studies by Which? Have shown that manufacturers have doubled the amount of sugar in our foods (including savoury and ‘diet’ ranges) over the last 30 years. So bad is it? Well, in 2008 researchers from the Medical Research Council and Cambridge University conducted a study to develop a way to test sugar intake in urine tests. The results were staggering. They found that a lot of average adults were consuming as much as 207g of sugar a day – that’s nearly 52 spoons and four times the recommended intake. The sources of the sugar found were most commonly found in table sugar, processed foods, biscuits and soft drinks – all things we tend to consume on a daily basis.
Naturally Occurring Sugars
The thing that people often forget is that sugar isn’t just in sweets, fizzy drinks and junk food. That sugar is all ‘table sugar’, and gives no added nutritional value besides energy. A lot of sugar is also naturally occurring, and it’s what gives some of our favourite healthy foods their flavour. Think of it this way – using the statistic we mentioned earlier, the average UK adult should be eating 90g of sugar per day. That’s the equivalent to 22.5 teaspoons. If you were to make a nice healthy sweet and sour chicken meal for dinner tonight, that would take up 22g (or five and a half teaspoons) of your sugars for the day. Why? Because pineapple naturally produces sugar as a part of it’s flavouring. Generally, health professionals believe that naturally occurring sugars are better for you than artificial ones, and to a large extent they are true (although there is some difference of opinion when it comes to fruit juices). However from a dental point of view it’s not as a relevant – and actually juices from fruits could be more harmful for your teeth, as they contain acids as well as sugars, both of which attack enamel.
The main thing to remember here is that sugar in itself isn’t bad – it’s the amount we eat that causes problems. That’s why there is a recommended amount. Our bodies need sugar in order to function, but not at the very high levels we ingest. You don’t need to swear off sugar altogether (although that would be quite difficult in todays market), just keep an eye on what you’re actually consuming and remember to brush your teeth twice a day!