5 “healthy” foods that are doing you damage
It seems that sugar is hiding everywhere these days. Even though you may be opting for seemingly nutritious foods with low fat and sugar contents, it is easy to unknowingly pack junk food into your shopping basket that is masquerading as a healthy option.
In fact, according to the ABS, the average Australian consumed 60 grams of free sugars per day between the years 2011 and 2012. “Free sugars” are defined by the world health organisation as all sugars added to foods by manufacturers, as well as the natural sugars present in honey, syrups, and fruits. However, only seven grams of natural sugars make up the average Aussie’s daily intake.
Accredited Practising Dietitian Karissa Woolfe attributes the worrying figures to our unhealthy sweet tooths. “Australia’s sweet tooth and our love of fizzy drinks are certainly responsible. The research shows that the majority of free sugars came from beverages, including soft drinks, fruit juices and cordial. Not only are they damaging on our teeth, but their excess kilojoules and lead to us storing extra weight around our middle”.
However, nutritional medicine expert Fiona Tuck explains how sometimes, we simply don’t know the truth behind food labels, and manufacturers go out of their way to make it awfully confusing. “Often the sugar is listed as fructose, glucose, rice syrup, sucrose to distract from the actual word sugar”.
On the good word of our experts, we have outlined some of the worst culprits when it comes to hidden sugars in foods, and how to avoid them.
1. Breakfast cereals
Although frosty flasks haven’t made it into the cupboard for years, even “whole grain” cereals and mueslis can pack upwards of 15 grams of sugar in less than a cup. To ensure you make a healthy choice, Karissa advises to head straight to the ingredients list on the back of the packet. “Look for these key words for hidden sugars: sucrose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose syrup, invert sugar, malt or malt syrup, maple syrup, treacle, golden syrup, corn syrup (also known as high-fructose corn syrup).” If you see the word “wholegrains”you know it’s a healthier option.
2. Anything low fat
Foods that are low in fat such as chocolate, ice-cream, cake, salad dressing and cheese are usually loaded with salt and sugar to compensate for the flavour lost.“If fat is removed from a food, it is usually substituted with sugar,” says Fiona.
3. Smoothies and fruit juices
With 13 per cent of Australian’s free sugars coming from fruit and vegetable juices, consuming fruit in juice form comes with cautionary warning. First of all, many juices are highly processed and have sugars and flavours added to them to preserve their shelf life. Secondly, fruit juice lacks the nutrients that make whole food healthy – and still contains natural sugars. If you drink a large glass of fruit juice, it is the equivalent of consuming the fructose sugar of several pieces of fruit in a very short amount of time. For example, in a 350ml serving of apple juice there is 39 grams of sugar, just one gram less than 350ml of coca cola. Karissa advises to approach juice carefully. “If you do not eat whole fruit, something is better than nothing, so choose a 100 per cent fruit juice with ‘no added sugar’ and limit to half a small glass or less a day”.
4. Ready-to-go meals
Although tinned soups, microwave meals and pre-packaged salads and sandwiches are convenient, Fiona warns they are riddled with hidden chemicals. “Tinned soups, passata and tinned tomatoes have added sugar as do many pre-packaged foods. Commercial bread and wraps tend to have salt and sugar added and also vegetables oils which tend to easily oxidise. These oxidised oils can aggravate inflammatory disease and ageing within the body”. Eating a diet of fresh wholefoods will naturally reduce the amount of sugar you consume. If it doesn’t come packaged, it can’t have extra sugars, so take your time in the fruit and vegetable aisle.
All yogurts contain some sugar in the form of lactose, however, it is that added sugar in typical fruit yoghurts that you need to be wary of. Make sure all sugars are accounted for in the ingredients list and none come from sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Karissa recommends that “plain, natural and unsweetened varieties of yoghurt are the most nutritious options for a healthy snack, to dollop on your cereal or enjoy as a dessert”. There’s nothing to stop you adding in your own fruits and nuts.
Fiona has some simple advice for avoiding sugars in everyday life. “Always read the food label to check for the sugar content which is listed on the back of the packet. In restaurants ask for no added sugar even with drinks as chai tea for example is often pre-sweetened and some smoothies have syrups added for additional flavour, so ask for sweetener on the side or no added sugar”.
For those diabetics out there hoping not to be fooled in the supermarket, your trusty companion is the Healthy Shopping Guide. It lists over fifteen hundred products that have theDiabetes Australia Dietitians seal of approval.
Did any of these sugary food products surprise you? Let us know in the comments below.