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Keeping tabs on how much sugar you’re swallowing is an important part of a heart-healthy lifestyle, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes. Consuming too much sugar is associated with heart disease, stroke, weight gain, diabetes, high triglycerides (a type of ‘bad’ fat in the blood), cancer and dental cavities.
When you eat refined sugar, it is broken down in your small intestine into two molecules, one is called glucose and the other is fructose, and fructose is the sweet molecule that we crave. Your pancreas releases insulin, which brings the glucose to cells in your body where it is used it as fuel. Meanwhile, fructose goes to your liver, where it can be metabolised into energy. But there is a limit to how much sugar the liver can metabolise. If you go over that limit and the liver can’t process all that energy, it has no choice but to turn that excess into liver fat. The build-up of fat in liver cells is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and it can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure.
Based on the evidence about the detrimental impact of a high sugar diet, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends people should reduce their intakes of ‘free sugars’ to around 5 per cent of total energy. This equates to about six teaspoons for adults and five teaspoons for children. Four grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon.
To translate from calories to grams to teaspoons, use the ‘divide by 4’ rule. Take the calories and divide by 4 to get the grams of added sugar. For example, 200 calories would be 50 grams and to convert this to teaspoons, divide by 4 again to get around 12 teaspoons of added sugars.
Sugar can be called many different names.
Look out for these common forms of free sugar on the food label
The good news is that cutting down on sugar may be easier than you think with these steps: