A sugar-free life may help you to live longer and healthier

We have a love-hate relationship with sugar. On the one hand, life would be dull without baked foods, ice cream, chocolates, jam and ketchup. On the other hand, a sugar-free life may well be longer and healthier. Excessive intake of sugar can cause tooth decay, obesity, and an unfavourable cholesterol profile that increases the risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, there are no clear-cut guidelines on how much sugar one can safely take in a day. According to most nutrition experts, including those who wrote the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2005), calories from added sugar are “discretionary calories”. One may take them to make up for a dietary calorie deficit only after accomplishing the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean proteins.

The number of discretionary calories at one's disposal depends on age, physical activity level, and individual medical problems. An average diet of 2000 Calorie/day has a discretionary quota of around 260 Calorie: this will cover a piece of cake or a couple of alcoholic drinks. Although it sounds like a party pooper, the “discretionary calories” principle makes life more bearable for diabetics: it allows them to have tea/coffee with regular table sugar and even the odd sweet snack in a day.

The American Heart Association (AHA) is tougher on sugar than the USDA. In its August 2009 recommendations, the AHA says that no more than half of the discretionary allowance of calories should come from added sugar. For men on an average diet, the limit would be around 150 Calorie per day from table sugar (around 9 tsp of table sugar). For women, the limit is around 100 Calorie (6 tsp of sugar).

Here are some tips to reduce the added sugar in your diet. Eat nutritious, balanced and healthful meals throughout the day to reduce your appetite for sugary foods. Even if you are not diabetic, shop in the diabetic aisle for low-calorie, low-sugar varieties of jams, biscuits, sweets and cakes. Use artificial sweeteners such as sucralose or aspartame: they are safe. Have fresh fruit instead of processed, sugary foods as snacks. Pick diet colas over regular soft drinks. Choose packaged fruit juice with “No added sugar” on the label.

Remember that as far as the body is concerned, honey, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, lactose, maltose, molasses and invert sugar are all just different varieties of sugar.

(The writer is a specialist in Internal Medicine)

Keywords: foodhealthdiabetessugar