The benefits of a low-sugar diet, and the foods to eat and avoid

There are two types of sugars: naturally occurring and free sugars. Naturally occurring sugars are found in food such as fruits, vegetables, and milk. They are essential for providing fuel to the body. On the other hand, free sugars are processed, refined, and added to food, found in items like honey, syrup, and fruit juice. These are easier to consume without realizing and are linked to poor diet and high blood glucose levels.

Experts recommend limiting free sugars in our diets. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, the average sugar intake in the UK is between 9% and 12.5% of daily calories from free sugars. The World Health Organization suggests that rates of tooth decay are lower in people whose free sugars intake is less than 10% of total energy intake.

Government guidelines suggest that adults should have no more than 30g of sugar per day, equivalent to seven sugar cubes. A low-sugar diet is intended to maintain a healthy level of glucose in the body. Aisling Pigott, a registered dietitian, notes that anything less than 30g of free sugar per day meets public health guidance around sugar.

By following a low-sugar diet, it can help with weight loss as excess sugar in the body can turn into fat. Consumption of added sugar has been linked to various life-limiting conditions such as fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Reducing sugar intake can protect the body against inflammation, improve mood, and guard against depression, according to studies.

Tips to reduce sugar intake include swapping sugary drinks for sugar-free versions or water, reducing portion sizes of sugar-laden treats, checking labels for foods with high sugar content, and keeping fruit juices or smoothies to one small glass per day.

The main sources of free sugars in the UK are refined breakfast cereals, sweet spreads, cakes, biscuits, desserts, sweets, and confectionary. Low-sugar foods are porridge, water, tea, coffee, beans and legumes, non-starchy vegetables, eggs, cheese, fish, meat, and tofu. Rob Hobson, a registered nutritionist, advises looking out for sauces, marinades, and dishes described as “glazed”, “caramelised”, or “sweet”.

Good low-sugar drink choices are red and dry white wines, while staying away from dessert wines, ciders, liqueurs, and cocktails. Also, Hobson recommends incorporating protein, healthy fats, and fiber with every meal to prevent blood sugar imbalances and mindless eating. Low-calorie hot chocolate drinks can help curb sugar cravings.

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