Sugar and Carbohydrates

People eat too much refined sugar – an average of about 50kg (100 pounds) per person per year. About 70 percent of this sugar is hidden in manufactured foods.

Excess refined sugars may contribute to heart disease, as it can be concentrated into small amounts of food and drinks which require little, if any, chewing. This makes it easy to consume excessive energy unintentionally and become overweight.

Carbohydrates in their unrefined form are essential to a healthy, well-balanced diet and are widely distributed in many of our basic foods. Extreme “fad” diets, which cut out carbohydrates, can lead to a nutritionally inadequate diet.

There are two main groups of carbohydrates: simple sugars and complex carbohydrates (starches).

Simple sugars include sucrose (the refined sugar of sugarcane) which is the most common, lactose in milk and fructose in fruit. Sucrose is used to sweeten soft drinks, fruit juices, biscuits, cakes, confectionery, jams and certain breakfast cereals. Therefore, these products should only be eaten in moderation.

Milk and fruit can be eaten in normal amounts. Honey is a concentrated sugar product processed by the bee, and should be limited.

Glucose is the simplest unit of sugar and is used in some foods and medicines. All sugars and starches are converted by the body into glucose for use as energy. Excess glucose or carbohydrate not used immediately by the body is converted to fat.

Starch is composed of a large number of glucose units linked together, and is found in wheat, cereals, flour, bread, potatoes, rice, corn, vegetables, nuts, seeds, dry beans and peas. Starch takes longer to digest than simple sugars. It is broken down into glucose.

Hidden sugar is found in the following products:

  • soft drinks (370ml can), 9 teaspoons
  • cordial, 1 glass, 5 teaspoons
  • flavored milk (300ml carton), 5 teaspoons
  • chocolate, small 30g bar, 6 teaspoons
  • ice cream, 1 serve, 4 teaspoons
  • iced dough nut, 6 teaspoons
  • plain sweet biscuit, 1 teaspoon
  • cream center biscuit, 1 teaspoon
  • jelly, 1 serve, 4 teaspoons
  • apple pie, 1 serve, 9 teaspoons
  • sweet breakfast cereal, 1 serve, 3 teaspoons
  • canned fruit in syrup, 1 serve, 3 teaspoons
  • jam, 1 serve, 1 tablespoon, 3 teaspoons

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