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Free Sugars

‘Free sugars’, what does this mean?

Dietitians along with nutritionists all agree we should be changing the terminology which we use and move away from the terms ‘unrefined’ and ‘refined’ sugars, because the term ‘unrefined sugars’ is not that useful. Hence why the terms ‘free’ and ‘non-free’ sugars are replacing them.

Let’s delve into what these terms mean, the differences between them and why this is important to consider.

Non free sugars’ are sugars which are encapsulated within the cell wall of foods. The sugar is contained and therefore not ‘free’ and it is because the sugars are contained within the cell wall which means our body works hard to break them down and release them. This results in a slower release of sugar into our blood stream (a steady release of energy). Non free sugars are found in fruits and veggies, starchy carbs such as potatoes, bread and pasta and lactose (the sugar found in milk - yes, dairy contains a form of sugar!)

We shouldn’t be too concerned about non free sugars as they are not averse to our overall health, because they are naturally occurring within the foods which we eat. They are actually a great source of energy – our body breaks them down into a sugar known as ‘glucose’ during digestion, which it can then use to generate something called ATP (our body’s energy currency) during a process called respiration.

Foods containing non free sugars - fruits and veggies, oats, quinoa etc - are very nutritious, these are commonly known as 'slow-release carbohydrates', and contain a lot of fibre.

Free sugars: Sadly they are not free of sugar or free of calories. They are sugars which are NOT contained within the cell wall. Free sugars is the term that health professionals use to describe any sugars that have been ADDED to foods and therefore are not naturally occurring within the food itself.

Healthy sugar alternatives such as maple syrup, honey, agave, coconut sugar etc all count as free sugars. Public health guidelines recommend adults consumer no more than 7tsp free sugars every day. It is important to remember it is okay to include some free sugars as part of a well-balanced diet, e.g., a small bit of chocolate for an occasional treat.

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