Monday, 8 August 2011

The evils of fat and sugar

Ok, the title of this post is a little dramatic but I've been paying a lot more attention to fat and sugar levels in food lately and getting some shocks! It all started from the healthy lifestyle sessions I mentioned that I was attending a few weeks back. Although aimed at families, specifically with toddlers aged 2-5, a lot of the nutritional advice naturally applies to adults too. We were given a handy rule to remember the figure that constitutes as 'low' fat and sugar when looking at food labels and it has been both helpful and enlightening.

Most food products list nutritional information per 100g, as well as per slice/biscuit/portion and it's the per 100g section you need to look at for reference. Fat is a three-letter word and coincidentally 3g is the number to remember for low fat. Sugar is five letters and 5g is the number relating to low sugar. (See chart below for the medium and high levels).

High fat foods can lead to weight gain and increase risks of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. High sugar foods will provide us with energy but if that energy is not burnt off with activity, it gets stored as fat on our bodies and again puts us at risk of certain diseases later in life. Sugary foods also contribute to tooth decay. Read more about possible dangers of high sugar consumption here.

Cereals are big culprits when it comes to high sugar. Special K focuses on the low fat content to portray itself as a cereal for people wanting to keep in shape but its sugar content definitely falls into the high category. Same goes for the popular children's choice of Cheerios. Have a look for yourself next time you are browsing the cereal aisle of your local supermarket.

A quick look at the nutrtional information of some of the foods in my kitchen cupboards gave me a nasty surprise. The crackers I enjoy munching on and the tortillas we like to cook wih all contain high levels of fat. Of course something like ice-cream would be a high-fat and high-sugar food so double the damage!

The human body has become so used to processed foods and our taste buds are now naturally attracted to high sugar, high fat and high salt. Food companies aim to satisfy our tastes whilst masking under a veil of 'healthy eating' that can be very misleading to consumers. Words like 'wholegrain' on a cereal packet give the conotation of something healthy and good to eat but if you look at the sugar levels, the picture is unlikely to be so healthy in reality.

Whilst I'm not suggesting you eliminate all high fat and sugar foods from your diet, I would recommend you take a look at food labels next time you are shopping. I've found it an interesting exercise and it has been a good way to make me more aware of what I am eating and knowing what I should eat less of. Moderation is the key message here. It's ok to have something you really enjoy that is high fat or high sugar (or both) but not on a very regular basis. Save it for treats or special occasions and that way you can savour it with no guilt, knowing that overall you are eating a healthy balanced diet, within which such types of food do not dominate your eating habits.

With children, we can help by setting a good example, as we know they always like to eat what we are eating! If that tends to be healthy food, low in fat and sugar, then we are helping create healthy eating habits that they will carry with them into adulthood. I know from personal experience that having grown up with a healthy diet as a child and enjoying sweet or fatty foods only as occasional treats has made me a generally healthy eater as an adult and someone who is thoughtful about what I consume on a regular basis.

Do you already pay attention to the fat and sugar levels on food labels when you shop? Are there some foods you like to eat a lot of that perhaps are not as healthy as you thought? How careful are you with the food that your child eats?

[caption id="attachment_2553" align="aligncenter" width="243" caption="Chart showing low, medium & high levels for sugar, fat & salt (UK)."][/caption]


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  1. Really interesting and true. I am an avid label reader as I think things are advertised as "healthy" and really aren't. I did however just check out our box of Cheerio's in my pantry and our measurements are a bit different in the US, but can still be worked out. It lists in one serving (28g) there is 1g sugar, so it should still fall in the "low sugar" category with approx. 3.5g sugar per 100g of cereal. I do find these to be a great choice for kids and adults eating healthy.

  2. Thanks for your comment Tiffany. Glad to know you already check food labels regularly :-). You're lucky with the Cheerios in the US. UK Cheerios have 21.3g per 100g so definitely fall into the 'high sugar' category.

  3. I read this a couple of weeks ago but through my email on the Ipod (so didn't comment!). I too am an avid food label checker. Even though Babyzoid is now on the verge of 2 I still really limit her salt intake. I'm a little more relaxed on the sugar as we both like the odd naughty treat, but I try to limit these to occasional treats, rather than let it become part of her routine snack regime. It's more difficult than it was too as being the growing-in confidence tot that she now is she's cottoned on to the concept of choice - 'ha, I can say no!'.

    Interesting to see the difference in sugar between the UK and US cheerios. Thinking about it though it's perhaps not surprising as I think we do perhaps have sweeter tastes than our transatlantic friends - or certainly if you compare our uber-sweet creamy chocolate to their perhaps more bitter tasting versions. I will certainly be sticking with the rice Weetabix, rice crispies and my muesli, which she always insists on sharing :) xX


Thank you for reading. I'd love to have your comments and thoughts!