Why “I quit processed foods” and not sugar!
Did you know that in 2011-2012, the average Australian consumed the equivalent of 14 teaspoons of white sugar per day (data from ABS). Yes, that it a lot of sugar! But do you see people walking around with packets of sugar, shovelling it into their mouths? Of course not. Most of this sugar was consumed in energy-dense, nutrient-poor ‘discretionary’ foods (81%) and beverages (52%), the main culprit being soft drink.
So what are discretionary foods? The technical definition is: foods and beverages that do not fit into one of the five basic food groups because they are not needed for health and growth. They tend to be poor in nutrients (vitamins, minerals, protein) and high in kilojoules/calories or energy which is why they get called “Energy-dense and Nutrient-poor”.
Also known as ‘sometimes’, ‘extras’, ‘processed’ or ‘junk’ foods, they include most sweet biscuits, cakes, ice-creams, ice-confections, desserts and pastries, pies, pasties, processed meats and sausages, chips, crisps, pizza, nuggets, burgers and donuts. They are foods that we all know are not healthy for us, yet almost 98 per cent of us consume discretionary foods and beverages every day. Alarmingly, men eat around 6 serves a day, while women eat around 4 serves a day.
But if we focus on sugar as being the problem, we are focusing on just one unhealthy ingredient in these foods and these foods contain a lot more unhealthy ‘ingredients’ than just sugar. Plus, all sugars are not the same. There are naturally occurring sugars in food (like fructose in fruit and lactose in dairy) which are processed by your body very differently and have different effects on your health than refined sugar (from cane sugar or sugar beet) that is added to processed foods to make them taste sweet. This added sugar is the sugar that we need to reduce our intake of as it contains nothing healthful and is nutrient poor.
Note that syrups such as rice malt syrup, agave, honey, maple syrup and golden syrup are also considered to be forms of refined sugar. High fructose corn syrup is typically not used in food production in Australia. You can find out if your packaged foods contain these added sugars by checking the ingredients list.
As well as added sugar, discretionary foods also contain unhealthy fats (including trans fats), salt, refined starches and artificial additives like flavours, colours and preservatives. Not to mention that this food is high in kilojoules, high GI, low in fibre and very easy to overeat. A lot of processed food is actually engineered to be so highly flavoured and ‘moreish’ that it overrides our satiety mechanisms. The result being, we eat too much.
Now if you cut out processed foods, what are you left with? Whole, unrefined, unprocessed food. Food that is nutrient dense (loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients etc) and generally low in kilojoules/calories. Food that will provide you with all the nutrients you need and none of the ‘extras’ you don’t want. Food that will help to keep you healthy, even if it does contain a small amount of ‘sugar’!