WHILE we are very aware of the problems associated with the consumption of too much fat, particularly trans-saturated fats, we may be less aware of the issues surrounding eating foods containing excess sugar. Sugar Awareness week, running from January 20-26 aims to redress this balance and to provide greater understanding of the subject.

Sugar occurs naturally in all foods containing carbohydrate. Examples of these are whole fruit and vegetables, grains and dairy. While we need to be aware that these products contain sugar, we do not necessarily need to reduce our intake of them.

They release their sugars into the bloodstream in a controlled manner. This may reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Fruit and vegetables also have the benefit of being high in fibre and antioxidants, while dairy provides a source of protein and calcium.

The sugars that we need to be more aware of and perhaps aim to reduce our consumption of are those know as free sugars. These are the sugars added to foods, either to improve their taste or to prolong shelf-lives. Some of these are in products that you might not necessarily assume to contain sugar, including soups, breads, processed meats and condiments, for example ketchup.

The Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SCAN) recommends that we get no more than five per cent of our total daily energy from free sugars. This is the equivalent of seven cubes of sugar for anyone aged over the age of eleven.

Yet the average single cola drink contains an amount free sugar equal to nine cubes of sugar and we may be consuming much more than this without even knowing.

The effects of excess sugar on the body can be seen in a similar manner to drinking too much alcohol. Both are broken down by the liver, and if excess strain is placed on this organ, the condition fatty liver can develop, itself a risk for developing diabetes.

Too much sugar may raise blood pressure and cause chronic inflammation, both risk factors for heart disease. Ultimately if your intake of calories exceeds the amount you burn off, you will gain weight. If a lot of sugar is consumed between meals it may also increase the risk of tooth decay.

While this all sounds baffling and very frightening, food packets now detail “carbohydrates of which sugars”, although the amount of free sugars is not currently listed in the breakdown. Food packets also follow the red, amber, green traffic light system for sugars as they do for fat.

Outside of this, possibly easier tips for reducing the amount of sugar in your diet could include reducing your consumption of soft drinks containing sugar, as well as avoiding adding sugar to hot beverages.

Many frosted cereals are high in sugar; not all are as healthy as they promise. Cooking from scratch, while time consuming and potentially a chore, will reduce those sugars in processed foods. This all may seem like a massive task, but if tackled over time, may be potentially workable.