Replacing free sugars with alternative sweeteners is an easy and effective way to help Australians lose weight believes leading dietitian, academic and co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners, Dr Alan Barclay.
Almost two in three Australians are currently overweight or obese and the country is facing an obesity epidemic. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has found that Australians are consuming an average of 60g of free sugars each day, the equivalent of more than 14 teaspoons of white sugar.
This is more than the World Health Organisation's (WHO) recommendation that people reduce their sugar intake to less than 10 per cent of their total energy intake, which equates to 54 g or less than 13 teaspoons per day for Australian adults.
Most concerning is the fact that more than 90 per cent (on average 52 grams or 12 teaspoons) of Australian's free sugars intake comes from added sugars, which are sugars added to food during processing or preparation, such as sugar added to tea and coffee and in baking. Added sugars are not naturally occurring, such as those sugars found in fruit and milk. Small changes in our diet and behaviour could have a significant impact on the nation's added sugars consumption.
Dr Barclay said the alternative sweetener category was often misunderstood by Australians who avoid them altogether, due to misconceptions about what they contain and their health implications.
'Many of us consume too much free sugar. However, alternative sweeteners are often lumped into the same category and there's a perception both must be avoided," says Barclay.
'In fact, there is a large body of scientific evidence that actually shows that the substitution of free sugars for alternative sweeteners helps people to lose weight and also keep the weight off in the long term".
Research that examined the effects of low calorie sweeteners showed that substituting free sugars for alternative sweeteners resulted in weight loss and could be a useful dietary tool to assist with weight loss or weight management plans when included as part of a healthy diet.
A recent report stated that 85% of Australians say they are currently trying to follow a healthy diet, with more and more consumers looking to make healthier food choices.
For Australians, natural sweeteners are a great alternative to free sugars and their versatility means they can be used for a variety of purposes, from home baking to sweetening drinks.
There are a number of alternative sweeteners available to consumers, however the latest product innovation to emerge are stevia based sweeteners.
Stevia is derived from the Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni plant (native to South America) and is developed through a natural process whereby Steviol glycosides are extracted from the leaves with hot water and the extract is passed through a resin to trap the Steviol glycosides.
'Stevia based sweeteners are the new kid on the block when it comes to alternative sweeteners," Dr Barclay said.
Whole Earth Sweetener Co. offers you high quality products made with sweetener from Stevia plant and other ingredients of natural origin" for a truly delicious taste. The range includes; Sugar free -Low Calories and 50% Less Calories than sugar options.
The 50% Less Calories range has been developed to help those looking to cut down on their added sugar consumption but are not yet ready to move to a 100% sugar free option. This 50% less calories range is a blend of raw cane sugar and stevia.
'Although I would recommend that people look to replace free sugars in their diet with alternative sweeteners, it's not always realistic," Dr Barclay said.
Whole Earth Sweetener products are available, nationwide at Coles and Woolworths stores.
Low Calories (Sweeteners: Erythritol and stevia):
Sweet Granules – 250g: RRP $8.50 – perfect for baking & cooking , in coffee or tea, on cereal or on yoghurt
Nature Sweet – 40 sticks: RRP $5.00 – perfect in coffee or tea, on cereal and yoghurt
All natural, made with all natural non-GMO ingredients
No bitter aftertaste
97% less calories than regular sugar (based on serving comparison)
100% free of sugar
Suitable for vegans
50% Less Calories (50% stevia/50% raw cane sugar):
Raw Cane 50 – 80 sticks: RRP $5.00 – perfect in coffee or tea, on cereal and on yoghurt
Baking Blend – 500g: RRP $6.50 – bakes and browns like sugar. Use it as you would use sugar, baking, cooking, in coffee or tea and on cereal
All natural, made with all natural non-GMO ingredients
No bitter aftertaste
50% less calories than regular sugar (based on serving comparison)
Suitable for vegans
We have taken our passionate sense of curiosity and relentless pursuit for innovation to craft a superior taste that you can't find anywhere else. We believe Whole Earth is the best tasting sweetener on the planet. Our line of products is all natural, made with all natural non-GMO ingredients and with no bitter aftertaste that will help consumers sweeten up every occasion and be part of a healthy lifestyle.
Dr Alan Barclay is an accredited practising dietitian and nutritionist with over 22 years' experience in clinical dietetics, public health and academia.
Alan is the author and co-author of a number of titles including The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners and Reversing Diabetes. Alan has a PhD from the University of Sydney and his thesis addressed the association of glycemic carbohydrate (sugars and starches) and the risk of developing lifestyle related chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes. Portions of this features in internationally renowned nutrition and diabetes journals and at global conferences.
In his role as an official media spokesperson for Dietitians Association of Australia, Alan has had extensive experience presenting on television, radio and in the print and on-line media. Not one to shy away from controversial topics, Alan is eager to bust myths around food and nutrition, particularly when it comes to carbohydrates and sweeteners.
Alan has previously held roles at the Glycemic Index Foundation where he was CEO and Chief Scientific Officer, and was Head of Research at Diabetes Australia (NSW) for nearly 16 years.
Question: Do you think sugar is solely to blame for Australia's growing obesity epidemic?
Dr Alan Barclay: No it is not. Obesity is a complex problem and there are many contributing factors.
However, most of us consume too much free sugars, which are a source of unnecessary kilojoules. In fact more than 90 per cent (on average 52 grams or 12 teaspoons2) of Australian's free sugars intake comes from added sugars, which are sugars added to food during processing or preparation, such as sugar added to tea and coffee and in baking. Therefore small changes in our diet and behaviour could have a significant impact on the nation's added sugars consumption and as a result help alleviate the country's growing obesity burden by helping us reduce our kilojoule intake.
Whilst sugar is undoubtedly a contributor to our national obesity epidemic, there are of course other factors at play. Physical inactivity is another major reason why so many Australians are overweight and moving a little more and sitting a little less every day could help shift some excess weight.
Portion control is another factor, as increasing our servings could be contributing to our expanding waistlines. Most foods come with recommended servings and we should be more aware of these so we are able to monitor and manage how much we are eating. We often find ourselves eating and drinking more when we are with friends or being cooked for by relatives so it's important to learn to say -no' and listen to your body if it's telling you you're full.
Question: What role do sweeteners play in tackling Australia's growing obesity epidemic?
Dr Alan Barclay: Many of us consume too much free sugar, so replacing free sugars with alternative sweeteners is an easy way to help with weight management and help alleviate the country's growing obesity burden. In fact, there is a large body of scientific evidence that actually shows that the substitution of free sugars for alternative sweeteners helps people to lose weight and also keep the weight off in the long term.
Sweeteners offer a practical alternative to sugar which can be substituted in drinks or when baking to reduce the kilojoule intake, this small lifestyle change is one factor which could help to alleviate the obesity issue facing Australia if incorporated as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Cutting out free sugars altogether is not necessarily a realistic solution as we have an inherent liking for sweet foods which actually begins at birth due to the high concentration of the sugar lactose in breast milk so we all have a liking for something sweet every once in a while, an enjoyment we shouldn't deny ourselves. It's just about being sensible: all things in moderation.
Question: Which sweeteners are we specifically referring to?
Dr Alan Barclay: Whilst there are a number of alternative sweeteners available, the latest product innovation to emerge are stevia based sweeteners. Stevia is derived from the South American plant, stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni, and the the leaf of the stevia plant contains compounds that give it sweetness and the sweet compounds are extracted from the leaves through natural extraction methods and purified.
In addition to the natural stevia based sweeteners which are free of added sugar, there are also 50% less calorie sweeteners, which are a blend of raw cane sugar and stevia plant extract, great for those who may not be ready to move to a 100% sugar free option, and in particular great for baking.
Question: How can we replace free sugars with alternative sweeteners in our diets?
Dr Alan Barclay: Alternative sweeteners are extremely versatile and can be assimilated easily into our everyday lives. In instances where you might normally reach for added sugars, think about using an alternative sweetener instead.
If you add sugar to your tea or coffee, try using a sugar free sweetener like stevia extract based or if you enjoy baking, reach for a 50% less calories than sugar option, which performs just like sugar, tastes great and is the perfect partner for budding bakers.
Question: What are the disadvantages of these sweeteners?
Dr Alan Barclay: The alternative sweetener category is often misunderstood by Australians who avoid them altogether, due to misconceptions about what they contain and their health implications and no studies show adverse effects of stevia.
Stevia based sweeteners are the new kid on the block when it comes to alternative sweeteners. Stevia extracts are removed from the leaves of the stevia plant by traditional water extraction methods which do not alter the composition of the plant's sweet compounds and the compounds are 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, without calories and stevia based sweeteners can be used in a wide range of recipes.
Question: What is our daily sugar intake and what should it be?
Dr Alan Barclay: According to the Australian institute of health and welfare, Australians are consuming an average of 60g of free sugars each day, the equivalent of more than 14 teaspoons for white sugar. This is more than the world health organisation's free sugar intake recommendation of 10% of their total energy intake, which equates to 54 g or less than 13 teaspoons per day for Australian adults.
Most concerning is the fact that more than 90 per cent (on average 52 grams or 12 teaspoons) of Australian's free sugars intake comes from added sugars, which are sugars added to food during processing or preparation, such as sugar added to tea and coffee and in baking. Added sugars are not naturally occurring, such as those sugars found in fruit and milk. So it's easy to see how small changes in our diet and behaviour, such as substituting sugars for alternative sweeteners, could have a significant impact on the nation's added sugars consumption.
Question: What foods or drinks are to blame for this high sugar intake?
Dr Alan Barclay: Soft drinks and other sugar sweetened beverages, confectionery, and sweet foods such as cakes, muffins and biscuits are the main sources in Australia.
Question: What else can Australians do to reduce the growing obesity epidemic?
Dr Alan Barclay: For most, obesity is caused by eating too much and moving too little so taking a closer look at our diets is crucial if we want to change our unhealthy eating habits. Lack of physical activity is another important factor relating to obesity and many of us may find ourselves in office jobs where we spend a lot of time sitting behind a desk.
We should all try and move a little more throughout the day whether that means taking the stairs rather than the lift or incorporating walking or cycling in our commute can help us maintain a healthy wait. If we all aimed for around 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day it could make a significant difference when coupled with a healthy, balanced diet.
Another major source of discretionary kilojoules are alcoholic beverages, so if you do drink, do so in moderation – less than 2 standard drinks a day and at least 2 alcohol free days each week.
Finally, enjoy a healthy balanced diet based on the core food groups as outlined in Australia's dietary guidelines.
Interview by Brooke Hunter