I decided to give up sugar for Lent. Not for religious reasons, I'm not even Catholic! But I have found that it is much easier giving up a bad habit when other people are trying to do the same.
There is less of the Mrs Doyle-type "aaahhhh, go wan, just have a little bit. You will won't you" that goes on which can derail your commitment.
I gave up sugar in my tea and coffee for Lent years ago, and have never gone back. The Lenten period of 42 days (not the commonly accepted 40 days), is just long enough to break a habit.
According to psychologists, it takes 21 impulses to make a habit but twice as long to break it. People keep on banging on about "everything in moderation".
Well, guess what? We don't have a clue what moderation is, otherwise our behinds wouldn't be widening by the minute and our children wouldn't be heading towards Type 2 diabetes. So what are we doing about it?
Action on Sugar in the UK
My decision happened to coincide with the anti-sugar campaign kicking off again in the UK. The British government is halving the recommended maximum allowance of sugar from 10pc of your daily calories to just 5pc.
Plus it is trying to pressurise manufacturers of high sugar, processed foods, such as chocolate bars, to produce smaller sizes. This is all in an effort to stem the epidemic of obesity and lifestyle diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. There has even been talk of taxing high sugar foods to make them less accessible.
The idea that sugar, rather than fat, causes obesity and diabetes is becoming more widespread.
As a result, more medical professionals, such as the group Action on Sugar which is made up of doctors, researchers and medical experts, are all recommending drastically reducing sugar intake.
Policy in the US
Last month, the US Food and Drug Administration released proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts label, including the addition of "added sugars." While there is no minimum requirement for added sugar in our diet, there is a recommended daily allowance, which many of us exceed.
Policy makers are hoping that by highlighting the added sugar in foods, consumers will have the tools to make healthier choices for themselves and their families.
Although sugar in itself isn't necessarily harmful to the body, consuming too much sugar displaces more nutritious foods in your diet, and an excess of calories from sugar is linked to chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
The recommended daily allowance for added sugar, according to the American Heart Association, is half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance. For women, this is generally 100 calories, or six teaspoons of added sugar, and for men, 150 calories, or nine teaspoons of added sugar. The AHA's recommendation is for added sugar, while a new set of guidelines, proposed by the World Health Organisation, calls for an even larger decrease in daily sugar intake overall, or limiting all sugars to 5pc of one's daily caloric intake.
All sugars are not created equal
The word "natural" has become one of those words that can lead to confusion when looking at food labels. But, when it comes to sugar, the difference is simple. Natural sugars are found in fruit (fructose), and milk and yoghurt (lactose) without any additional processing, and come with the benefits of the whole foods that contain them.
Added sugars are natural sugars that have been processed and added to food items. While your body processes added and natural sugars in the same way, the difference comes from how the two forms of sugar are consumed.
Natural sugars occur in foods that contain beneficial vitamins, minerals and fibre, while added sugars are what we call "empty calories," meaning they provide calories but little nutritional value.
To sum up, 150 calories consumed from processed sugar is 20 times more potent than that from a natural source (source: Action on Sugar UK)
How to decipher labels:
Unfortunately sugar is hidden in most processed foods, even savoury products. Your best bet is to prepare more of your own food and less pre-made stuff.
But of course, there are items such as cereals, crackers, snack breads etc that are convenient, so you just need to find to find better versions.
The best way to determine if there is added sugar in your food, is to look at the ingredients list. Natural sugar won't be listed, but added sugar will be.
Look for the following words on the Nutrition Facts Label:
* brown sugar
* corn sweetener
* corn syrup
* fruit juice concentrate
* high-fructose corn syrup
* invert sugar
* malt sugar
* raw sugar
* sugar molecules ending in "ose" (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
* table sugar
Remember, ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. If the first or second item listed is sugar, this may be a product you want to avoid.
One way manufacturers avoid making sugar the first or second ingredient is by using two or three different kinds of sugar in a product. By listing these items separately, they will be farther down on the ingredient list. If you see two or three of the above words listed, this may also be a product you want to avoid, or save for discretionary calories.
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Health & Living