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Free sugars – enemies to our health?

Published on February 6, 2017 at 8:59 / Updated on May 8, 2018 at 20:53

The current hot topic among nutrition experts trying to battle obesity is now free sugars. What are they, and why should you care about them?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), free sugars include “monosaccharides (such as glucose and fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer,” as well as “sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.”

Free sugars can therefore be sugars that are added to foods, or sugars naturally present in food but not connected to other components in the food. For example, the natural sugar contained in an apple does not exist on its own, it is connected to other parts of the fruit, such as the fibre. When we eat an apple, the sugar it contains will not be absorbed until the digestive process has separated it from other components of the apple. However, when we make juice out of apples, natural sugars are “released” from other components. Since it is now a free sugar, it is metabolized as an added sugar.

What’s the difference between “added sugars” and “free sugars”?

The expression “added sugars” refers to sugar that is added to a food during manufacturing, such as brown sugar added to a cookie recipe. This category is therefore included as free sugars.

Why are free sugars so harmful to our health?

As with many other foods, free sugars can be part of a balanced diet, but they must be consumed in moderation. When eaten in large quantities, the body only uses the amount it needs to feed its cells, and turns the rest into fat.

According to the WHO, we should limit our free sugar intake to a maximum of 10% of our overall calorie intake. For someone who consumes 2,000 calories per day, that would be approximately 48 g or 12 teaspoons of sugar. When we consider that a 250 ml glass of 100% natural fruit juice (no sugar added) contains the equivalent of 5.5 teaspoons of free sugar, we realize it would be very easy to exceed the recommended daily intake, even when we think we’re eating “healthy.”

So, should we eliminate sugar completely? No, of course not, but it’s helpful to be aware of the amount of sugar in our diet, so that we can make adjustments when needed. In the mood for a glass of juice? The solution might be to eat a fruit instead. You’ll enjoy the same great taste, but with all the other advantages of eating a whole fruit, especially its fibre content.

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