Sweetening the diet deal

Bowl of healthy muesli with yogurt and fresh berries

Eating need not be a bitter experience. We reveal how sugar can be enjoyed as part of a healthy balanced diet.

When we’re trying to lose weight, sugar is often the first thing to go – much to our dismay. But this need not be the case. Sugar is an essential part of a balanced diet. There’s so much inaccurate information when it comes to nutrition, particularly with regard to the effect of sugar on our health. This makes it very difficult to tell fact from fiction, reports the South African Sugar Association. Healthy eating, or a balanced diet, means eating a variety of foods to supply the nutrients our bodies need. All food groups should be included.

Weight gain explained
No single food item that causes weight gain. The cause of weight gain is consuming more energy than your body needs to function well. When you do this, the extra energy is stored in your body as fat. If you keep on eating more than you need, you could gain weight.

According to the World Health Organisation, the fundamental cause of obesity and being overweight is an energy imbalance between calories (energy) consumed and calories expended.

The total number of calories you eat and the amount of physical activity you do is what’s most important. It follows that to lose weight you need to reduce your caloric intake and increase your output. Most dietitians will recommend not cutting out any food group, and based on your height and weight will recommend a total daily calorie intake and give you a sustainable and healthy eating plan.

Sugar and weight gain
Sugar itself does not cause weight gain more than any other type of food. Remember though, it is important to enjoy a diet that includes fresh fruit and vegetables, protein such as fish, chicken and lean meat, and carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, legumes, lentils and whole grains.

Have a look at the South African Guidelines for Healthy Eating and talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian about a healthy, balanced diet.

The best weight-reduction diet is one you can sustain safely over the long term. “Too often, people follow diets
that make them feel deprived, and they cut out nutrients required for long-term health. Inevitably most people cannot sustain these types of diets and gain back the weight with interest,” says Dr Louise van den Berg, senior lecturer at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Free State. Changing dietary and lifestyle habits will increase the likelihood of keeping the weight off.

The taste
Numerous studies have shown that sugar makes healthy foods palatable. Sugar provides sweetness and energy, reports Jennifer Crawford, editor of the SA Sugar Journal. “The first taste that we encounter (breast milk – lactose) is sweet, which may be why a sweet taste is interpreted positively.” Adding sugar to foods high in nutrients can improve the chances of them being eaten – such as making porridge or grapefruit tastier with a teaspoon of sugar. This adds the variety that characterises a healthy diet.

For science-based facts about sugar and health, visit: www.youandsugar.co.za

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  1. Bolton-Smith, C. & Woodward, M. (1994) Dietary composition and fat to sugar ratios in relation to obesity. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord, 18, 820-8.
  2. Gibson, S. (2010) Trends in energy and sugar intakes and body mass index between 1983 and 1997 among children in Great Britain. J Hum Nutr Diet, 23, 371-81.
  3. Gibson, S. A. (2007) Are diets high in non-milk extrinsic sugars conducive to obesity? An analysis from the Dietary and Nutritional Survey of British Adults. J Hum Nutr Diet, 20, 229-38.
  4. Hill, J. O. & Prentice, A. M. (1995) Sugar and body weight regulation. Am J Clin Nutr, 62, 264S-273S; discussion 273S-274S.

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