Food and drinks become sweeter. How this can affect your health

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New research shows that pre-packaged foods and drinks have become sweeter over the past decade, which may increase the daily amount of sugar people consume. Kelly Knox/Stocksy
  • A study from the University of Cambridge has shown that food and drink is becoming sweeter all over the world.
  • Excessive sugar consumption is linked to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
  • Non-nutritive sweeteners are often seen as a healthier alternative, but they also come with certain health risks.
  • Sugar and sweeteners can be difficult to spot on food labels.

Whether you’re a sweet or savory person, chances are your sugar consumption has increased over the past 10 years, as a new study from Cambridge University found that food and drink have gotten sweeter over the past decade .

According to the researchers, their study shows that “the amount of added sugars and non-nutritive sweeteners in packaged foods and beverages increased sharply over this period.”

They add that these results are particularly true in middle-income countries like China and India, and in the Asia-Pacific region including Australia.

Not only is added sugar a problem, but also non-nutritive or “artificial” sweeteners typically found in ultra-processed foods like cookies, ice cream, and soft drinks.

Using global market sales data, the researchers documented the amount of added sugar and non-nutritive sweeteners in packaged foods and beverages from 2007 to 2019.

They found that per capita levels of non-nutritive sweeteners in beverages are 36% higher globally, while sugar in packaged foods is 9% higher.

Zoë Palmer-Wright, a nutritionist at YorkTest, says that by increasing the sugar and sweetener content in food and drink, the food industry is making people crave those products, making them buy more of them.

Whether you enjoy the taste of sugar a little or a lot, sweet foods affect all brains in the same way,” she explains.

Eating sweet foods leads to the release of chemicals, including dopamine, which has opiate-like effects.

“As the sugar content of foods has continued to rise over the past decade, people have become more and more dependent on changing their mood with these increasingly sweet foods,” she says.

While sugar and sweeteners can certainly improve the taste of our foods and even give us a temporary dopamine boost, their health risks are well documented.

“If you eat a lot of sweets and your main meals aren’t balanced either, you’re at risk of developing blood sugar problems,” says Palmer-Wright.

This, in turn, can lead to many chronic health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, and increase your risk of obesity.

“In the short term, unstable blood glucose levels put you on a roller coaster ride, oscillating between episodes of low and high blood glucose,” adds Palmer-Wright.

“This can destabilize your mood and hormones, causing brain fog, headaches and food cravings.”

There are similar risks with non-nutritive sweeteners.

The Cambridge University researchers note that despite their lack of dietary energy Current Ratings“suggest that consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners may be associated with type 2 diabetes and heart disease and may disrupt the gut microbiome.”

Cakes, donuts, and candy bars might come to mind when you think of sweet, sugary foods, but you could be consuming excessive amounts of sugar without realizing it.

That’s because savory foods, and even foods labeled “healthy,” often contain “hidden” sugars. In fact, Palmer-Wright says that much of the sugar we consume today comes from hidden sugar.

“Many cereals and granola bars are loaded with sugar (some brands have up to 12g of sugar in just one bar!) and fruit yoghurt can also be high in sugar,” she points out.

“Ironically, some low-fat or ‘diet’ products are also high in sugar, because when the fat is removed from the food, a lot of the flavor is also lost, so manufacturers have to replace the fat with sugar or artificial sweeteners,” says Palmer -Wright adds.

Other high-sugar culprits include fruit juices, energy drinks, soups, salad dressings, and condiments like ketchup.

Additionally, you may not be told about the sugar content of your food by looking at the label. According to Palmer-Wright, this is because food labels can be misleading.

“Sugar can be written as sucrose, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, glucose, maltose, dextrose, polydextrose, corn syrup, and maltodextrin, among others,” she explains.

With foods becoming sweeter and misleading food labels making it difficult to decipher what you’re actually eating, it seems like reducing your sugar intake is a losing battle.

First things first, it can be helpful to know how much sugar you should actually be consuming on a daily basis.

Sal Hanvey, also a nutritionist at YorkTest, says that according to the RDA guidelines, adults should consume no more than 30g of free sugar per day (which is about 7 sugar cubes).

She says that in some countries, color-coded labels allow you to see at a glance whether the food is high, medium or low in sugar.

With more conscious food choices, you also need to be aware of when sugar has been replaced with an artificial sweetener. Many people often see these as a healthier alternative.

However, Hanvey says the word “artificial” speaks for itself. These artificial substances do not occur or develop naturally. They are usually industrially produced and produced on a large scale,” she points out.

If you want to avoid them, check the ingredient list on the label.

According to Hanvey, names to look out for and avoid if possible include: aspartame (NutraSweet), acesulfame-K (Sweet One), saccharin (Sweet’N Low), and sucralose (Splenda).

In an increasingly busy world filled with competing commitments, taking a few extra minutes to check the label can seem like a tall order, but it can just make all the difference when it comes to your health.

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