Is your ‘sugar-free’ diet overflowing with free sugar?

Recent guidelines published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), strongly recommend that all adults and children reduce their intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake to reduce the incidence of obesity and tooth decay. But what is a ‘free’ sugar? And does this mean that we should all be following the current ‘sugar-free’ trend, popularised in some fast-selling diet books? You know the ones where the author has an sugar-free epiphany and we read about the trials and tribulations of weaning themselves of sugar and becoming a better sugar-free person (than the rest of us)…

First of all, free sugars are basically those sugars added to the foods we eat by the consumer, cook or manufacturer and includes sugars found naturally in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juice. The problem with the current promotion of the ‘sugar-free’ lifestyle is that many of these diets are absolutely full of free sugar, as they endorse the use of natural, unprocessed sweeteners such as manuka honey, agave nectar and maple syrup.

However, solid evidence has shown that these natural sugars affect our bodies in the same way as the ‘bad’ sugar that we expect to find in processed foods such as sweetened soft drinks or hidden in savoury condiments, such as ketchup. These free sugars are just the same as the spoonful that we stir into to our cup of tea and the sugar that is naturally present in our glass of unsweetened orange juice.

In effect, an overconsumption of natural sugar is just as bad for us as too much of the white stuff and the continued reliance on too much free sugar is driving the high prevalence of obesity and tooth decay worldwide. Which is why the WHO has issued these guidelines.

So following a sugar-free diet may not be all that it seems. But even if you are one of the many converted, some part of you probably didn’t quite believe that all that honey drizzled on your Greek yoghurt could be eaten with impunity. In life, and in health, there is no free ride when it comes to free sugar.

For the WHO guidelines see:

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