Reducing the amount of sugar or giving up sugar for a period of time is one of the best things you can do to accelerate your health goals. Quitting sugar can promote benefits such as helping to sustain your energy, find your natural weight, avoid the 3 pm energy slump and improve your gut and skin health.
We chat to nutritionist and naturopath Casey-Lee Lyons from Live Love Nourish about just how much sugar may be hiding in your breakfast muesli:
Sugar is hidden in many food products, from savoury sauces and snack bars to breakfast cereals, and even muesli, which is so often thought to be the ‘healthy’ breakfast option.
Being aware of where sugar can be found, and paying attention to how much you consume, is a great way to make sure what you are putting into your body is supporting your health goals. Let’s have a look at the benefits of being sugar free, as well as other names for sugar you might not know, and how much sugar is too much.
Muesli is one of the top foods where you might be overlooking the amount of sugar you are consuming, so in this blog we’ve done some research on popular mueslis and share with you the lowdown on just how much sugar is in your muesli and which is the lowest sugar muesli currently on the market.
Sugar and Your Health
Reducing the amount of sugar in your diet can have a myriad of health benefits including:
- Increased and sustained daily energy
- Improved gut health
- Natural fat loss
- Clearer skin
- Improved hunger/satiety control – ie. no cravings!
- Clearer thinking – no more brain fog!
- Improved liver function
- Reduced risk of metabolic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, PCOS
- Fewer dental caries
- Improved blood sugar control and increased insulin sensitivity
- Improved blood lipid (cholesterol) markers
- Hidden Sugar In Foods
In many cases, it’s clear which food products contain lots of sugars – cakes, biscuits, lollies etc – and we know to minimise or avoid these foods. However, sugars are hidden in many food, including muesli. With so many different names for ‘sugar’ it can be hard to navigate the labels. Did you know there are 40+ different types of sugar regularly added to food products? We’ve put the most commonly used sweeteners (sugar) in Table 1, with those we see most commonly in bold, so you can see just how easy it is to overlook how much sugar we are actually consuming.
|Table 1 – Types of added sugars found in food products (bold = most common)|
|agave syrup/nectar||barley malt||beet sugar||blackstrap molasses|
|brown sugar||caster sugar||raw sugar||coconut sugar|
|cane sugar||icing sugar||demerara sugar||invert sugar/syrup|
|muscovado sugar||palm sugar||panela sugar||powdered sugar|
|rapadura sugar||carob syrup||coffee sugar crystals||corn syrup|
|dates, date sugar/syrup||dextrose||evaporated cane juice||fructose|
|fruit juice||fruit juice concentrate||glucose syrup||golden syrup|
|grape sugar/syrup||high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)||honey||lactose|
|malt||maltose||maple syrup||natural sweetener’|
So How Do You Easily Avoid or Minimise These Hidden Sugars?
- Stick to real and fresh food as much as possible.
- Try to limit how much food you eat from a packet unless you can identify the ingredients. If you don’t recognise an ingredient, or can’t pronounce it, it’s most likely not good for your body.
- Check your labels. If you do buy some packaged food, check the ingredients. Ideally, the list of ingredients should include all food ingredients you would recognise in your kitchen (as close to their natural state as possible).
- Pay attention to how much sugar per 100g is on the nutrition label (keep reading below for more info on this).
How Much is Too Much Sugar?
The World Health Organisation recommends limiting added sugars (also known as ‘free sugars’) to under 5% of your daily energy intake. This works out to be approximately 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men, and of course less for children. This includes sugars that are added AND natural sugars such as honey and fruit juice. Note, this WHO recommendation does not include naturally occurring sugar found in fruit and vegetables.
These amounts are a limit, so ideally we should stick below these. The World Health Organisation says “a further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits.”
6 teaspoons = approximately 25g
Australian food labels must tell the consumer not only what ingredients are in the food product, but also the sugar content. This is where we can take responsibility for our purchases and checking these labels for the ingredient content and sugar content.
Image credit – Eat for Health – Australian Government Department of Health.
To determine a product’s sugar content, it’s best to refer to the “100g” column of the nutrition panel, as this allows you to compare products to one another (not all products have the same serving size). You can see in the example nutrition panel below, this product above contains 11.8g sugar per 100g. You can see from the ingredients list that this is coming from added sugars: sugar, malt extract and honey.
It’s important to be aware that mueslis containing dried fruits have higher sugar content, not necessarily because of added sugars, but due to the natural sugars contained in the fruit. We recommend keeping sugar intake to a minimum.
When it comes to muesli, look for one that contains 5g per 100g sugar (5%) or less.
How To Choose Your Muesli
Aside from the overall sugar content and source (natural vs added) of a packaged muesli, it’s also important to consider the other ingredients. Does the muesli contain highly processed oils, flours or artificial preservatives? Ingredients like this can also negatively impact your health.
When shopping for a muesli, here’s what to consider:
- Are there any added sugars?
- Are there added poor quality oils?
- Limit dry fruit (high in sugar).
- Watch out if dried fruit is high up in the ingredient list.
- Does it contain beneficial healthy fats from things like nuts, seeds and coconut?This will keep you fuller for longer and not hungry an hour after eating.
- Look for higher protein muesli (also found in nuts, seeds as well as higher protein grains such as buckwheat or quinoa).
- Check the serving size – an entire bowl is usually much more than a serving size. Instead, add your own fresh toppings such as berries, 1/2 sliced banana or kiwi.
- Are the ingredients raw or roasted? Raw is nutritionally best.
- Don’t be influenced by nutritional claims on the package, turn it over and check the ingredients. Again,watch out for anything ‘added’.
- Are there artificial sweeteners, preservatives, cheap oils etc?
- Are these ingredients what you would identify as ‘real food’? Are these ingredients close to their natural state (minimal human interference)?
- Muesli can be a healthy choice if you choose right! Muesli can provide a delicious breakfast option rich in good fats (such as from nuts and seeds), fibre (which is great for your digestive system and supports a healthy weight and blood sugar levels) and contain plant-based protein (such as from nuts or chia seeds), all of which are beneficial to your health.
Live Love Nourish did a review of 10 popular Australian muesli products and, for learning purposes, we wanted to highlight just how important it is to pay attention to your labels and be aware of what’s often found in breakfast muesli. See Table 2 below for a comparison of sugar content and ingredients found in these popular mueslis. Just to give you an idea, we’ve highlighted the sugar content per 100g as well as added ingredients. Pay attention to this column particularly and note how many are over the recommended amount of 5% sugar (5 g per 100 g). Keep in mind we ideally want to choose muesli with a low sugar content and one without added ingredients, such as poor quality oils and preservatives.
|Table 2 – 10 popular muesli products compared (brand names have been removed)|
|Muesli #||Description||Sugar Content (per 100g)||Other Ingredients|
|1||“Gluten free Maple muesli”
|10.3g||fructose, emulsifier, sugar, golden syrup, maple syrup, antioxidant, natural flavours, molasses|
|2||“Natural Bircher Muesli”
|4||“Gluten Free, Sugar-free Muesli”
|5||“Natural Style Muesli”
|16.4g||sugar, food acid, preservative, malt extract, emulsifier|
|6||“Fruit Toasted Muesli”
|23.3g||vegetable oil, preservative, glucose, raw sugar, canola oil, natural flavour.|
|7||“Bircher Muesli with fruit and nuts”
|8||“Natural Muesli” with Summer fruits, chia and yoghurt pieces.
|11.4g||concentrated apple puree, concentrated apple juice, concentrated mango puree, citrus fibre, natural flavour, pectin, vegetable oil, emulsifier, triticale, sugar, vegetable fat, yoghurt powder, soy lecithin, preservative.|
|9||“Crunchy, Nutty Muesli”
|13.6g||raw sugar, glucose, brown sugar, sunflower oil, starch.|
|21.4g||sugar, sunflower oil, sunol oil, maltodextrin, emulsifier, barley malt extract, preservatives.|
The results found that there were 2 mueslis that really stood out as the lowest sugar muesli on the market; products 3 and 4. These are both mueslis made by The Muesli. The Muesli is also a completely natural product based on real food ingredients; we couldn’t find any questionable ingredients at all! Their muesli contains whole food ingredients such as nuts, seeds, coconut. As a bonus, it’s also available in a Gluten Free version.
When choosing your muesli, always choose a muesli made with real food ingredients that contain as little sugar as possible and be aware of other added ingredients.
Our friends at The Muesli are offering all Studio Pilates readers 15% off any of their range of mueslis, just by adding the code STUDIOP at checkout.
Casey-Lee Lyons is a naturopath, nutritionist, recipe developer and founder of Live Love Nourish. She is passionate about inspiring health and happiness through easy-to-understand nutritional and lifestyle advice. Casey-Lee’s refreshing approach to gluten, dairy and sugar-free nutrition has helped many people improve their health, increase energy, find their natural weight, improve gut and digestive health, balance hormones, heal cravings and more.