By Pat Bain
Fitness Coordinator of Wisdom for Women International

The overconsumption of sweet stuff has ruined our eating habits and contributed to obesity and other major health problems. 

Sugar may provide calories for energy, but it has no nutritional value and over consumption can be harmful to your health. Hundreds of studies clearly show how dangerous (and even deadly, in the case of diabetics) its effects can be. Diets high in sugar and other refined carbohydrates radically increase the body’s production of insulin; and insulin is the best single index of adiposity, medical jargon for fat. But that’s just the beginning of the health perils associated with sugar. Consider these frightening facts and you’ll probably pitch your sugar bowl and half the foods in your cupboards into the rubbish bin.

  • The consumption of sugar-laden soft drinks, fruit juice and sports drinks has increased by 300 percent in the United Kingdom over the past 40 years. One of every four beverages consumed in the U.K. today is a soft drink. Increased intake of soft drinks may increase the risk of tooth decay and the erosion of tooth enamel.
  • The number of small children—to whom junk-food companies aggressively market their products—who are overweight has doubled since 1980; the incidence among adolescents has tripled in the same period.
  • Type 2 diabetes has increased dramatically in children in recent years. In one study of Caucasian and Afro-Caribbean youngsters aged 10 to 19, Type 2 accounted for 33 percent of all diabetes cases.
  • The Health Department estimates that NHS costs attributable to overweight and obesity now total about £117 million a year—fast approaching the £130 million attributed to smoking.
  • According to the DOH, people who eat diets high in sugar get less calcium, fibre, folate, zinc, magnesium, iron and vitamins A, C and E and other nutrients, than people who do not consume much sugar. The high-sugar crowd also consumes fewer fruits and vegetables.
  • By displacing protective nutrients and foods in the diet, added sugars may increase the risk of osteoporosis, cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease and other health problems.
  • Sugar can accelerate the aging process.
  • Excess sugar consumption may make people more vulnerable to Type 2 diabetes.
  • Sugar has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease; women who consumed diets with a high glycemic load (associated with intake of sweets or highly processed starches and sweets) showed an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is brought on by years of eating too many refined and sugary foods. Though often associated with diabetics, it is estimated that 10 to 25 percent of non-diabetics are unable to properly metabolize sugar.
  • Women tend to crave sugar before the onset of their menstrual period, but removing sugar from their diets has been shown to minimize PMS symptoms, including anxiety and depression. 

Some Foods with hidden sugar

Oatmeal, which is naturally low in sugar, makes a very healthy breakfast if you dress it up with nuts and fruit. But the pre-packaged, flavoured variety is often packed with loads of added sugar.

Protein Bars
Protein is a smart snack option because it keeps you full longer than carbohydrates. But protein bars can be problematic because they’re sometimes filled with sugar to make them taste better. Unsalted almonds or peanuts are a healthier choice.

Salad Dressing
This is a tricky one. Salad dressing, especially the low-fat variety, can contain a lot of sugar. Opt for vinegar or lemon juice with olive oil instead.

You probably know whole milk contains saturated fat, but all milk contains sugar. Pair it with sugary cereal or oatmeal and you could be in for one heck of a morning sugar crash. 

Tomato Sauce
Adding a pinch of sugar to marinara sauce is a common trick cooks use to cut the acid from the tomatoes. But packaged varieties take this practice too far, stuffing jars with tons of corn syrup because it thickens the sauce–and is therefore cheaper to make.

Canned soup
Like canned vegetables, most canned soups have added sugar to extend their shelf life – some brands can contain several teaspoons of sugar per serving. Read the labels of canned soups before you put them into your shopping basket or better yet, cook your own vegetable soup at home.

Iced Tea
In its natural state, tea contains no sugar. The trouble begins with the sweetened varieties that come in those familiar glass or plastic bottles–some have almost as many grams of sugar as a Coke.

Dried Fruit
Fruit naturally has a lot of sugar, but some food companies insist on dusting it with even more.

Tomato Sauce
There’s reason tomato sauce goes so well with salty chips –the sweetness from the sugar it contains balances the flavour. (The same is true for barbecue sauce.)

Sports Drinks
Maybe you’ve heard that sports drinks contain sugar. But think of it like this: one drink has 310 calories. A 150 pound person would have to run for 3 miles to burn that off. Kind of reduces the benefit of working out, huh?

Peanut butter
There’s nothing better than a slice of toast with peanut butter. One of the reasons it’s so delicious is the high amount of added sugar. The sugar content varies by brand, so it’s a good idea to compare labels. The sugar content is mostly listed under carbohydrates (“of which sugars”) and listed in grams. Divide the number of grams by four to calculate the teaspoons of sugar per portion.

Most of us prefer the flavored ones but they all contain added sugar – even the low-fat and non-fat versions. Some brands of flavored yogurts contain up to 20 grams (or 5 teaspoons) of sugar per serving – that equals a big piece of fudge per “healthy” yogurt serving. Rather opt for plain yoghurt and add fresh fruit and honey to sweeten it.

Breakfast cereals
Have a look at the ingredient list of your favourite breakfast cereal. Most breakfast cereals are loaded with sugar to make it more palatable. The classic cornflakes contain about 5 to 7g of sugar per 100g, meaning a 50g portion will contain half to one teaspoon of sugar. The “healthier” high-fibre, all bran flakes contain up to 11g of sugar per 100g or around one and a half teaspoons of sugar. The sweeter flavored cereals that kids (and many adults) love so much contain up to 34g of sugar per 100g. That’s a whopping four teaspoons of sugar per 50g portion!

Canned vegetables
Many brands of canned vegetables contain hidden sugars that are used during the manufacturing process to make their shelf life longer. Have a look at the ingredient list to see whether any sugar has been added and, if you must have sweetened veggies, choose a brand with the lowest sugar content. The best option is still to cook fresh vegetables and add a sprinkling of sugar at the end to satisfy your taste buds.

Bread and rolls
Though it may be obvious that some bread such as raisin, carrot or banana bread have sugar in them, many breads and rolls (both white and whole-wheat) also contain sugar. Some bread contains as much as a teaspoon of sugar per slice, so check the labels before buying. Check out bakeries or local markets for healthier bread options or consider baking your own bread.

Fast foods
No surprises that fast food makes the list! Fast foods have too much of everything: salt, fats, empty kilojoules and sugar. Most people know that fast food is not good for you, but even if you stay away from sweet sodas, milkshakes and desserts, the hamburgers, chips and, even the salads, could all contain some form of hidden sugar. If you can’t stay away from fast food, check out the ingredients very carefully to make smarter choices and try to keep your intake to the minimum.

Reading Labels
It can be confusing to try to find out how much added sugar a food contains. The sugar listing on a Nutrition Facts label lumps all sugars together, including naturally-occurring milk and fruit sugars, which can be deceiving. This explains why, according to the label, one cup of milk has 11 grams of sugar even though it doesn’t contain any sugar “added” to it.

To determine how much sugar has been added to a food product, follow these two tips:

Read the ingredients list. Learn to identify terms that mean added sugars, including sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup, dextrin, honey, invert sugar, maple syrup, raw sugar, beet sugar, cane sugar, corn sweeteners, evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, malt, molasses, and turbinado sugar, to name a few.