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The benefits of reducing sugar intake

Hadyn Luke posted this on Tuesday 21st of January 2014 Hadyn Luke 21/01/2014

Tags: Nutrition weight management


The benefits of reducing sugar intake

One common reason for people to use the services of a personal trainer is to lose weight and this blog looks at one of the common causes of weight gain and obesity – sugar.

Sugar is an essential part of our diet but many people consume too much. Many food and drink products are unexpectedly high in sugar – from cereals and cooking sauces to flavoured water – and it’s not always easy for consumers to judge their sugar intake.

A personal trainer may find that a client keen to lose weight is cutting out sweets and biscuits but is consuming high sugar drinks such as fizzy and sports drinks.

New campaign to reduce sugar intake

The team behind Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash) launched a campaign in January 2014 to encourage lower sugar intake through a reduction in the amount of sugar added to food and soft drinks.

With the rates of diabetes and obesity on the rise in the UK (see our blogs on Personal Training – Obesity and diabetes: The effects of a high carb/fat diet), the Action on Sugar group is looking to encourage food and drink manufacturers to look at the products they sell and see if there are ways to cut the sugar content.

The group’s chair, Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London, said:

“This is a simple plan, which gives a level playing field to the food industry, and must be adopted by the Department of Health to reduce the completely unnecessary and very large amounts of sugar the food and soft drink industry is currently adding to our foods.”

He also pointed out that the campaign to reduce salt content in manufactured food and drink had been successful, with many supermarket products now containing between 25% and 40% less salt, without consumers noticing.

Sugar and calorie reduction

The campaign suggests that a reduction of 20-30% in sugar over the next three to five years would cut long-term calorie intake by around 100 calories a day – and that this is sufficient to slow or even reverse the obesity crisis, as well as cutting down the number of people diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and fatty liver disease. 

Although the campaign is largely focused on the food manufacturing industry, a personal trainer can also offer alternatives to their clients to help them reduce their sugar intake. For example, substituting carbonated water for fizzy drinks, swapping a high-sugar yoghurt for Greek yoghurt and making a pasta sauce from scratch rather than buying a ready-made jar.

Foods with high sugar content

Although a fitness professional would not recommend trying to cut out sugar altogether and would normally suggest a combined diet plan and exercise programme (see our blog on Exercise Vs Diet), it’s important that clients are aware of the hidden sugars in many foodstuffs. 

Most people would recognise that foods such as sweets, chocolate and cake are likely to have a high sugar content. However, they can easily get caught out by sugars in savoury foods, for example:

  • ready meals
  • pasta sauce
  • ketchup
  • yoghurt
  • bread

and in drinks such as:

  • flavoured water
  • fizzy drinks
  • sports drinks

Food labelling

A personal trainer might recommend that clients check food labels to help them make informed choices about their sugar intake (see our blog on Food labels: Counting calories and hidden fat). They should look under ingredients for: Carbohydrates (of which sugars).

Low sugar levels: under 5g of total sugars per 100g

Medium sugar levels: between 5g and 22.5g of total sugars per 100g

High sugar levels: over 22.5g of total sugars per 100g

Disadvantages of sugar reduction

Although it may be beneficial to health to reduce sugar in the diet, some people are concerned that this may lead to an increase in artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (E951). 

Artificial sweeteners are tightly regulated and, despite concern, studies show that they should not be harmful to health in the quantities used in manufactured food.

Any artificial sweeteners used should be mentioned on food and drink labelling. This is essential for people who have phenylketonuria (PKU) and have to follow a strict diet avoiding phenylalanine, which is found in aspartame. The Food Standards Agency has more detailed information about aspartame on its website

(see http://www.food.gov.uk/policy-advice/additivesbranch/aspartame).

In conclusion

As many people are consuming sugar in too high levels, fitness trainers can suggest to clients that they look more closely at food labels for sugar content, as well as considering cutting back on those heaped teaspoons of sugar in their hot drinks.

Ultimately, it’s about making realistic choices to suit a person’s lifestyle and goals, and a personal trainer may find it best to recommend small steps rather than sudden major changes in order to achieve the best results.

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