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What's the difference between carbohydrate and sugar?

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What's the difference between carbohydrate and sugar?

Are you trying to cut carbs (carbohydrate) or cut down on sugar? Let’s take a look at what these words mean, and where to find them in foods and drinks.

What are Carbohydrate and Sugars?

Carbohydrate is a macronutrient, which means it is a major component of food. It is an ‘umbrella’ word covering all the different types of carbohydrate from complex forms like starch and dietary fibre to simple forms like added table sugar.

When carbohydrate is digested, it provides your body with the energy that is needed to keep your body and brain functioning. It provides the fuel for your muscles to keep you moving and basic functions that you do not have to think about like breathing, pumping blood and thinking.

Sugars are a group of simple forms of carbohydrate. Compared to starch and fibre, they have a chemical structure that consist of just one of two molecules joined together, like a chain that only has two links. This means that they are broken down and digested fairly quickly, which lead to a fast rise in your blood sugar level after eating food that contain simple sugars. Examples include sucrose in table sugar, lactose in milk and fructose and glucose in fruit.

Sugar and the Nutrition Information Panel

Nutrition Information Panels provide an overview of the nutrients that are in the food product. On Australian and New Zealand Nutrition Information Panels it is mandatory to include information on the carbohydrates and total sugars the product contains. Some labels will also divide the amount of ‘total sugars’ down into the amount of ‘added sugars’ and ‘free sugars’. These words can be confusing so we have added definitions below.

Definitions of carbohydrate types:

  • Total sugars refer to all the types of simple sugars that are in a food. This includes both naturally occurring free sugars and added sugars.
  • Free sugars are sugars that may occur naturally in a food as well as ones released when the food is processed. Some processing techniques cause the sugars to be released, or ‘freed’ from other food components that would normally have slowed its digestion if it had not been processed. Free sugars are found in home-made and store-bought juices, and fruit juice concentrates sometimes used to sweeten foods such as canned fruits.
  • Added sugars are sugars that do not occur naturally in a particular food but have been added for flavour or preservation. This is commonly sucrose or table sugar.
  • Ingredient list: Processed foods include an ingredient list, which lists the food product ingredients in descending order. This means the ingredient that makes up the greatest amount (in weight) will be listed first, down to the ingredients that contribute the least.

If you notice that a food is high in free or added sugars, or you are not sure, have a look at the ingredient list to see whether sugar is listed in the ingredients. Sugar may be listed on the ingredients list under several different names; including, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, glucose, golden syrup, honey, maple syrup, malt, cane sugar, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, rice syrup, agave, caramel, glucose and maltose.

Why aim to reduce the amount of sugars we’re adding?

The World Health Organization (WHO) strongly recommends that everyone reduces the amount of free sugars (including added sugars) they eat to less than 10% of total energy. Research shows eating less free sugars is linked with better health outcomes, and a lower risk of developing dental carries or gaining excess weight.

For an adult with an average daily energy requirement of 8700kJ, this equals about 54g of sugar per day, at most. A 600mL bottle of cola drink contains approximately 63g of sugar.

Being aware of the amount of carbohydrate in foods and drinks is especially important for people who have diabetes, or pre-diabetes because carbohydrate in foods can impact on a person’s blood sugar levels and how they manage their diabetes.

How to reduce the amount of sugar you eat

  1. Limit the amount of ultra-processed foods that you eat such as biscuits, cakes, muesli bars, ice cream and sugar sweetened drinks and sugar sweetened yogurts. These foods are common sources of added sugars.
  2. Choose foods with less than 15g of sugar per 100g. If a food contains more than 15g of sugar per 100g, read the ingredient list to find out whether a food contains added sugars in the top 3 ingredients.
  3. Consider your portion size. If you choose to eat a food with added sugars, consider reducing how much of that food that you eat per serve.

A note on sugar alternatives:

These are a type of sugar that has been made in a laboratory, and don’t cause the rise in blood sugar that carbohydrates and sugars do. Sugar alternatives include: Aspartame, Saccharin, Sucralose, Alitame, Acelsulphame K, Alitame and Cyclamate. Sugar alternatives won’t be listed on the nutrition information panel, though they will be listed in the ingredients list.

Your Personal Healthy Eating Quiz

What you eat or don’t eat affects how you look, feel and perform. Take our short quiz to find out what foods you could introduce to help you be your best.

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What is healthy eating?

Eating healthy is making sure you enjoy a wide variety of foods from each of the five major food groups daily, in the amounts recommended. The five major food groups as recommended by the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating are:

  1. vegetables and legumes/bean
  2. fruit
  3. lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, legumes/beans
  4. grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties
  5. milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives, mostly reduced fat.

Foods are grouped together because they provide similar amounts of key nutrients and eating a variety of foods from the list above helps to promote good health and reduce the risk of disease.

How do I improve my diet?

If you want to improve your diet you have come to the right place. By completing the Healthy Eating Quiz you’ll receive instant personalised feedback and a report on your diet quality to highlight any areas where you can improve your overall eating habits. Your score is based on the frequency and variety of the foods consumed from the five major food groups mentioned above. No Money No Time can help you improve your score by providing tips, goals and suggestions. On top of this we will provide quick, cheap and healthy recipes as well as credible answers to diet hacks, myths and FAQ’s.

Is my diet healthy?

Dietary habits are different between people. Some people choose to follow a particular diet (i.e., Keto diet or vegan diet) while some have to make changes due to certain food restrictions or health conditions. If you want to know if what you usually eat is healthy, then do the Healthy Eating Quiz today to give you the answers in less than 10 minutes.

Why is healthy eating important?

Your HEQ score and personalised feedback report is based on the frequency and variety of healthy core foods you usually eat. This is important because no single food contains all the nutrients we need to stay healthy. Some foods are higher in nutrients than others and people who have a lot of variety in the foods they eat are more likely to be healthy and to stay healthy. In other words, if you can eat a large variety of vegetables as opposed to only 2-3 types of vegetables, the benefits are much greater. This type of diet also helps you to feel better, think better and perform better during your usual daily activities.

Take the Healthy Eating Quiz