What diet has the best preventive and therapeutic effects.

The traditional recommendation for the prevention and treatment of obesity is: “Eat everything, but in moderation”. Or: “There are no unhealthy foods, only unhealthy quantities”. But many food products contain unsuitable ingredients that are not good for our health. Unfortunately, shops are full of them and they are just as attractive visually as they are price- and taste-wise.

These products are difficult to consume in small amounts, as they don’t satiate and quickly make people hungry again. If we don’t want to become obese, the above mentioned recommendation means we have to strictly watch our caloric intake. If, on the contrary, we need to lose weight, we have to eat less food and exercise more, which poses another problem. Less food means less energy for exercise and more exercise means there is a greater need to eat. A larger number of small meals often gradually becomes more larger meals, or can lead to unhealthy “all-day snacking”.

The most healthy foods are real foods – i.e. real meat (not smoked meats), fish from the sea or fresh water sources (not mayonnaise-based fish salads or pre-fried fish sticks full of artificial preservatives), fresh fruit and vegetables (not juices and products with fruit flavoring), proper milk and dairy products (not sweetened, fat-free or low-fat versions thickened with starch), real eggs (not from soy or other substitutes), high-quality sourdough bread (not white rolls or bread with added brown coloring), legumes, porridge oats and wholegrains (not sweetened cereals, wafers and other puffed-grain products), high-quality, non-industrially processed fats and oils (not hardened fats or margarines).

A real food diet does not require you to count calories and is suitable for the prevention and treatment of “lifestyle diseases”. Removing ultra-processed food products with added sugars and starches, white flour, modified fats and additives significantly helps in the prevention and treatment of obesity and diabetes. Even just removing sugar and replacing white flour with wholegrain can lead to a reduction of excess kilograms, better health and improved lab results.

If you find it difficult to keep amounts of food (of any quality) under control, you may find it more effective to modify your diet by reducing one of the main sources of energy – carbohydrates. Sweet meals and drinks can be replaced by tasty sugar-free alternatives, and starchy sides can be exchanged for vegetables. After that, you can just stick to the following rule: Only eat when hungry, do not snack between meals. If you can manage, watching your calories will no longer be necessary.

Why even healthy people should also limit their sugar intake.

For a healthy person with normal weight, a reasonable amount of sugar is not dangerous, and the metabolism will easily handle the occasional sweets that grannie bakes. However, many people’s current sugar consumption is excessive, and therefore carries many health risks.

In terms of prevention, we recommend avoiding ultra-processed food products with added sugar as much as possible and sticking to basic, minimally-modified foods. By doing so, the consumption of both sugar and other problematic ingredients such as refined sugars/starches, industrially processed fats, preservatives, coloring, etc. can also be curbed.

What does the World Health Organization recommend?

For prevention, the World Health Organization recommends reducing free sugars intake to under 10 % of total energy intake.. Reducing it to below 5%, which is about 6 teaspoons per day, will demonstrably improve health. 

For example, the daily limit of 25g of free sugar is contained in:

In 2016, the American Heart Association’s prevention program for cardiovascular diseases recommended that children reduce their intake of added sugars to less than 6 teaspoons per day (which means that when a child has a glass of orange juice and a few gummy bears, his or her daily limit of added sugar has been reached).

Glossary of terms:

Added sugars are simple sugars that are not a natural part of whole foods (e.g. fruit) and are added during production or preparation in the kitchen.

Free sugars include added sugars and sugars present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice from concentrate. 

Are there any healthy alternatives to sugar?

Honey, brown sugar, syrups and other white-sugar substitutes do usually contain a small amount of vitamins and minerals, but their benefits are overestimated, as their primary components are still simple sugars. The term “healthy sugar” is thus highly debatable, as all sources of simple sugars are unhealthy when consumed in greater amounts.

Artificial (non-caloric) sweeteners do not raise blood sugar levels (as they are not sugars), but they can further promote addictive behavior towards sweets and increase appetite. Artificial sweeteners also have an unfavorable effect on the composition of intestinal microbiota and can make weight loss more difficult, particularly in obese individuals.

An acceptable alternative to sugar is an occasional and small amount of sweetener such as stevia, erythritol, xylitol or chicory syrup.

Is fructose a suitable replacement for sugar?

Fructose makes up one half of common table sugar (or sucrose) and has long been considered to be a “better sugar”, as it does not require insulin to be processed and does not increase blood sugar levels as much as glucose. Therefore, fructose has been recommended as a replacement to sugar for patients with diabetes. However, further research has revealed that it reduces the feeling of fullness and leads to the need to eat more, thus increasing caloric intake.

Another negative effect of fructose is that it is partially converted to fat in the liver, where it is then stored. Excessive consumption of fructose contributes to the fattening of the liver and increases the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Fructose also leads to an increased creation of uric acid and contributes to the development of gout.

The good news is that these negative effects do not occur if fruit is the source of fructose. However, this applies only to unprocessed (whole) fruits with intact fiber and not to the products made from them. Fruits and “healthy” fresh juices are sources of free sugars. Fruit should be eaten, not drunk.

In addition to juices and table sugar from beets and sugar cane, primary sources of fructose also include glucose-fructose syrup and high-fructose syrup, which are used in place of sugar in industrial food production. Fructose is also the primary ingredient of agave syrup, and the artificial sweetener sorbitol is metabolized into fructose.

How do I make sense of the sugar content data on food packaging?

In the nutritional value table on food packaging, “carbohydrate content” refers to the overall amount of simple and complex carbohydrates per 100g of the product. This data does not include fiber, which is listed separately as an optional item. The “total sugars” item indicates the amount of all simple sugars, thus making it impossible to find out how much added sugar the product contains. This, for example, is simple with a product like white yogurt – the “total sugars” item only lists the amount of naturally contained lactose. But, in fruit yogurt, this item also includes simple sugars contained in the fruit and the added sugars that prevail in these products in addition to lactose. All ingredients from which the product was created (thus also including added sugars) are then listed in the product’s ingredients. The ingredients can thus reveal whether the product contains some added sugars. In the ingredients of a food product, the term “sugar” alone can be used only for sucrose. Other sugars must be listed specifically, and some sugars are listed in several variations (for example, glucose can be listed as “dextrose”; fructose may be listed as “fruit sugar”, etc.). Added sugars that are found in a product can also include inverted sugar, glucose syrup, glucose-fructose syrup, malt sugar, maltodextrin and others.