Confused about fruit juice? Conscious of stealth sugar in shop-bought products? Dietician Dr Sarah Schenker shares her advice for cutting down on the white stuff together
As a nation, we’re eating too much sugar. Experts at the World Health Organization say that we should get a maximum of 5% of our daily calories from added sugars. Yet government statistics show that children are eating far more, with 51.2% of their sugar coming from unhealthy snacks such as biscuits, cakes, juice and fizzy drinks.
One way to change our sweet-loving habits is by making clever choices as a family. By cutting down on sugary foods and choosing slow-release energy options, you can improve your mood and energy levels, reduce hunger pangs between meals and even increase performance at school and work.
Leading dietician Dr Sarah Schenker gives her advice for reducing your family’s sugar intake minus the hassle…
1. Start the day smart
Many breakfast cereals are high in sugar – even ones that appear ‘healthy’ – so opt for foods that deliver on protein instead. Protein helps you feel fuller for longer, according to the British Nutrition Foundation, and a protein-rich meal needn’t mean getting up any earlier to prep. Thick Greek yogurt with a handful of berries, nuts and oats is quick and tasty, and you can make it the night before. Porridge with nuts and seeds is another great option for the kids, or make them scrambled eggs on toast – you can cook these in the microwave to save on time.
2. Prepare for snack attacks
Packed lunches can be deceptively high in sugar, especially if you include juices, smoothies or snacks made from processed fruit. Instead, fill both yours and the kids’ lunchboxes with snacks such as veg sticks and hummus or cheese and wholegrain crackers. Try making your own low-sugar snacks such as flapjacks, banana loaf or these oat, honey and almond balls – perfect for the 4pm slump. No time? Public Health England suggests low sugar snacks such as Soreen malt loaf, Petits Filous fromage frais and sugar-free jelly are just as good.
3. Master a few dinnertime shortcuts
Making your meals from scratch is a great way to know exactly what you’re eating, but time pressures and hungry family members mean it’s not always possible. A slow cooker can help – pop in your meat and veg in the morning and you’ll have a delicious, warming meal waiting for you when you get home. Or keep it simple with ‘cheat’ ingredients such as ready-chopped bags of veg, microwave rice and grains and frozen prawns for a tasty stir-fry that’s ready in minutes.
4. Watch out for hidden sugar
So many products contain ‘stealth sugar’ (other less obvious forms of sugar) that it’s worth getting clued up on your food labels. ‘Free sugars’ (simple sugars added to foods and the ones we need to cut down on) include table sugar, honey and syrups and fruit sugar in juices and smoothies. They’re also disguised as glucose, sucrose, maltose, fructose and corn syrup, so keep an eye out for these. The nearer to the top of the list it appears, the greater the quantity.
5. Go easy on the fruit juice
Although pure fruit juice counts towards your 5-a-day, keep it to 150ml (a small cup) as this counts as a portion. Introduce more whole fruits – berries such as blueberries and raspberries contain the least sugar. If you’re making juices or smoothies for the family, opt for vegetable-based recipes. You’ll gain more essential nutrients and less sugar.
6. Swap sweet treats for fun experiences
The odd slice of cake or chocolate bar is fine, but make sure that occasional treats don’t turn into regular ones, as your kids will crave sugar more and more. Try not to use a packet of sweets or chocolate as a reward. Instead, use non-food incentives such as a day trip or an extra story at bedtime to encourage your child’s good behaviour.
7. Boss batch-cooking
Planning your meals in advance may take a little more time, but it’s as good for your bank balance as it is for your family’s health. Make a big batch of ‘ready meals’ for dinner (try our coconut chicken curry or Elly Pear’s Tuscan-style cannellini bean stew), pop them in the freezer and use as you need throughout the week. It takes no more time to double a recipe and can often save you money. Kids love responsibility, so include them in the decision-making and ask them to help you write weekly menus and shopping lists. You only need to do this a few times as you can recycle these every few weeks. Just remember to label and date your food before placing in the freezer to avoid confusion!
It’s easier than you think to reduce your family’s sugar intake and once everyone gets used to a different way of eating, they won’t crave sweet treats as much. Eventually, everyone’s palates will adapt to a lower intensity of sweetness so you can all enjoy a healthier diet.
Want to know more about sugar? Read our guide to the facts on sugar and what it can do to your body.