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Under the spotlight: Sugar

Sugar - those sweet white crystals may be small in size, but they have the power to generate big conversations.

The Heart Foundation Tick programme gives an overview of sugar and how it should fit into a healthy diet.

Social media and internet blogs allow anyone and everyone to have their say. As a result, we are faced with mixed and often controversial opinions on sugar. Navigating your way through the nutritional bedlam can be confusing. With a fresh year ahead, let’s make some sense of sugar and look at how the Tick programme is tackling the issue.

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate used by our bodies for energy. We often think of table sugar (sucrose), the white granules commonly used in home baking. However, sugar may be called many different names including glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, dextrose, raw sugar, cane sugar, malt extract and molasses. Sugar can be added to food during cooking or processing (added sugar) but can also be naturally occurring in nutritious foods such as fruit and milk.

Most nutrition experts agree that too much added sugar is not good for anyone. This is because a high intake of added sugar provides a lot of energy (kilojoules) without offering any other nutritional benefits. There is growing concern about the negative effect that a high intake of sugar can have on body weight and other risk factors for heart disease, like blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The Heart Foundation and Ministry of Health have always recommended limiting intake of food and drink high in added sugar as one part of a healthy diet - read more here.

Does this mean we need to follow a ‘sugar-free diet’ and eliminate sugar completely? Not necessarily. Opt for nutritious foods that contain naturally-occurring sugars rather than those high in added sugar. When it comes to healthy eating it’s also important to look at the big picture. Foods and nutrients are not eaten in isolation so it’s important to focus on your overall dietary pattern, rather than just focusing on individual nutrients.

So what’s the Tick programme doing in regards to sugar?

Last year, the Tick programme celebrated the introduction of Two Ticks. Two Ticks signposts core foods for a healthy diet and includes sugar criteria for some categories, such as breakfast cereals and yoghurts. That means products in these categories must adhere to strict sugar guidelines to earn the Two Ticks symbol. In 2015, sugar criteria will also be added to relevant Tick (single Tick) food categories. Just like all other nutrients included in the Tick programme, sugar criteria will be category-specific and set using a robust criteria review process. 

Wishing you a happy and healthy start to 2015.