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Allan on Sugar ? Fructose ? Fruit ? What can I have ? :
Hi Judy, I do enjoy your empirical evidenc... »

Sugar ? Fructose ? Fruit ? What can I have ?

By: Judy Davie - The Food Coach

Fructose is the latest villain in food. This naturally occurring sugar found in fruit, root vegetables and honey is blacklisted because - and I'll quote a well-known celebrity who's made a fortune from quitting sugar - "it is the only food molecule on the planet with no corresponding hormone in the brain that tells us when we've eaten enough of it".

It is also, according to the same source, mostly metabolised by the liver where it's turned into the worst kind of fat - visceral fat. I'm not going to argue the point because I don't think that it is the point. The point to me is that any added sugars, fructose or otherwise are found in packaged food and it's packaged food we should avoid.

The reason I bring this up is not to condemn anyone who's working to improve the population's eating habits, rather to help people understand that it is OK to eat fruit - a natural wholefood package that contains fructose, fibre and a host of beneficial phytonutrients too good to miss out on. With so much talk about fructose being bad, there are a lot of people out there who think that fruit is the enemy. It's not.

It is more than OK to eat 2 serves of WHOLE fruit a day.

Fruit juice is a different story and is best avoided, but more on that later

Up until recently there were no standards on sugar intake per day. That changed last year with the World Health Organisation publishing their "sugars intake for adults and children" guidelines. The reasons for this are obvious, what's not obvious is why our own FSANZ (Food Standards Australia and New Zealand) have not come up with sugar standards for Australia. (I suspect it's to do with money and politics). Anyway, in order to try and combat dental cavities, obesity and chronic disease these long awaited standards are much welcomed.

What is the recommendation?
Based on the WHO standards, less than 5 % of our calorific energy should come from free sugars. (Confusingly they start by suggesting < 10% but later in the document suggest < 5%. For my health conscious readers I will set the bar at 5% allowing you an additional 5% every now and again to enjoy occasional extra sweet treat - as I am doing now scoffing on a dark chocolate coated macadamia! Free sugars incidentally are the added sugars in packaged foods and drinks, sugar added by the home cook, or added in coffee and tea and include honey, and sugar found in fruit juice and fruit juice concentrate.

The maths explained

Maths is not my strongest subject but if nothing else is achieved from this exercise you might learn that it's just easier to cut free sugars from the diet (not fruit).

Each gram of sugar is equivalent to 17kj, therefore to calculate your daily sugar allowance you must first know your BMR. The BMR is how many kJ you can consume to maintain your current weight.

You can use our BMR calculator to find this out.

Once the BMR is known you can calculate 5% of your total BMR which will give you the acceptable kJ allowance obtained daily from sugar.

Divide that by 17 to find out how many grams of sugar you can have in one day.

And then divide the total number of grams from sugar by 4 to find out (roughly) how many teaspoons that is.

For the majority of people that's between 6 - 9 tsp.
The table below shows how age and sex effects energy expenditure and sugar intake

On the Nutrition Australia website, I found the following table which provides the average number of kilojoules required daily. Based on that and using the WHO less than 5% sugar standards you can see how much sugar to have.
Very curiously (and NA is still to get back to me with an explanation) from the information below I can't work out where the average daily kJ intake food of 8,700kj that is regularly quoted comes from, but more on that another time.

Age Male Energy Expenditure Recommended Sugar Intake Female Energy Expenditure Recommended Sugar Intake
12 - 1510,90032 g / 8 tsp9,50028 g / 8 tsp
16 - 1812,90038 g / 9 tsp10,20030 g / 7.5 tsp
19 - 5011,50034 g / 8 tsp9,30027 g / 7 tsp
51 - 7010,45031 g / 8 tsp8,80026 g / 6 tsp
Over 709,45028 g / 7 tsp8,30024 g / 6 tsp

Source: NHMRC, Canberra. These figures represent average requirements for the Australian population. Actual energy needs for individuals will vary considerably depending on activity levels, body composition, state of health, age, weight and height.

Let's talk about Abby, my imaginary 15 year old case study

It's the weekend and Abby has one more week before school holidays end. Mum and Dad have said she can go to her friend's BBQ later that day and onto the movies at night. It's to see Star Wars and she can't wait.

Abby wakes for breakfast and has a glass or orange juice, 2 Weetabix with 2 tsp sugar. Later that morning she has a small tub of fruit flavoured yoghurt, and for lunch a slice of Kraft vegemite cheese between 2 pieces of white bread. At her friend's house she has 2 sausages and a bread roll with a good dollop of tomato sauce and later - at the movies - a can of coke with a small bag of Maltesers.

Does that sound vaguely plausible? I think it does.

Going by the figures in our table above, Abby hasn't eaten enough for the day. Her total kJ consumption is only 7,422. She's definitely not getting what she needs nutritionally, given that not a single piece of fresh produce passed her lips. She is getting is a whole lot of sugar. In total she has consumed 125 g of sugar, the equivalent of 2,125 kJ, and 29% of her total daily energy consumption.

Even without the Coke and Maltesers, 17% of her total diet would have come from sugar (mostly added).

It's important to remember that free sugar provides no nutritional benefits therefore a diet that is - in the case of Abby, low in kJ's AND high in sugar is nutritionally lacking and will not contribute to a healthy body and healthy mind. While Abby won't gain weight on a diet like this, her body won't develop and mature as well as it should.

And, later in life, her diet may lead to disease.

This information was taken from the WHO sugar intake guidelines
Non-communicable diseases are the leading causes of death and were responsible for 68% of the world's 56 million deaths in 2012. More than 40% of those deaths were premature. Modifiable risk factors such as poor diet and physical inactivity are some of the most common causes of NCDs; they are also risk factors for obesity which is also rapidly increasing globally. A high level of free sugars intake is of concern, because of its association with poor dietary quality, obesity and risk of NCDs. Free sugars contribute to the overall energy density of diets, and may promote a positive energy balance. Sustaining energy balance is critical to maintaining healthy body weight and ensuring optimal nutrient intake. There is increasing concern that intake of free sugars - particularly in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages - increases overall energy intake and may reduce the intake of foods containing more nutritionally adequate calories, leading to an unhealthy diet, weight gain and increased risk of NCDs. Another concern is the association between intake of free sugars and dental caries. Dental diseases are the most prevalent NCDs globally and, although great improvements in prevention and treatment of dental diseases have occurred in the past decades, problems still persist, causing pain, anxiety, functional limitation (including poor school attendance and performance in children) and social handicap through tooth loss.

And what about fructose? Frankly I don't think it matters. Learn how much you can eat so you don't deny yourself altogether (as I did with my chocolate macadamias), avoid packaged foods as much as possible and what packaged foods you do eat, check how much sugar is in a serve.
As for fruit, continue to enjoy it as we have done for years, because it's been around a lot longer than Coke has!


Jan 22 2016 1:51PM
Hi Judy,

I do enjoy your empirical evidence based information and your application of common sense in your words and professional opinions in guiding people to recognize the benefits of good dietary practice and in the context of Healthy Ageing principles.

I continue to work within industry as a Chef or Chef Manager, primarily designing and deploying optimized "fresh is best" menu planning solutions to counter the use of sugar and sodium dense items.
Comment by: Allan

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