January, 2016

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Sugar Savvy: How To Read Food Labels

 How do I know how much sugar is in a food?

On a food label, sugar comes under the heading of carbohydrates. Usually you will see something like ‘Carbohydrate 29g of which sugars 12g’. This tells us how much of the carbohydrate in the product comes from sugar. Example below:

Typical Composition 100g contains Per biscuit
Energy 1972kJ
Protein 6.5g 1.0g
Carbohydrates 73.4g 11.3g
Of which sugars 23.8g 4.0g

A really simple and useful way of calculating sugar content is to remember that one teaspoon of sugar weighs four grams. So, in the example above, one biscuit contains one teaspoon of sugar.

Remember: 1tsp of sugar = 4 grams


What constitutes high/low sugar?

< 5g of sugar per 100g   = low sugar content

5g – 15g sugar per 100g  = medium sugar content

>15g of sugar per 100g  = high sugar content


Note Re. Naturally Occurring Sugars

If you’re trying to calculate sugar content on a food label, it’s important to bear in mind that in many cases, not all of what you see is ‘added sugar’. Many foods such as dairy, fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans etc. contain naturally occurring sugars.

Fruit contains naturally occurring sugars in the form of fructose, so for example, a tub of tomato soup may contain 10g sugar per portion, however, half of this is likely to come from naturally occurring sugars from the tomatoes and the remainder is likely ‘added sugar’ which is added by the manufacturer.

soup swapDairy products like milk, yogurt etc. also contain naturally occurring sugars in the form of lactose which we don’t need to be overly concerned about. When you’re looking at a dairy label, approximately the first 4.7g per 100g/ml will be lactose, the remainder is likely to be added sugar. I recommend you choose dairy products with less than 8g of sugar per 100g.

So, for example, if you picked up a vanilla flavoured yogurt and it contained 15g of sugar per 100g, you’ll know that only about a third of the sugars present are naturally occurring sugars from the milk, the remainder is added sugar.

Are ingredients listed in any particular order?

You can also learn a lot from just observing the order in which ingredients are listed. All ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight, including added water. So, the ingredient listed first is present in the largest amount and the ingredient listed last is present in the least amount.

This is an easy and quick way to judge a food, so for example, if you buy an oat based cereal, the first ingredient listed should really be oats. Avoid foods where sugars are listed near the top or in a variety of ways.

Should I go by ‘per 100g’ or ‘per portion’?

Both are valuable in different ways. Nutrition labels will tell you how much of each nutrient there is in a single serving of the food and in 100g of the food. Looking at the serving size information will tell you what you will get if you eat one portion e.g. one bowl of cereal.

The ‘per 100g’ part lets you compare two foods which may have different serving sizes (e.g. two different types of cereals) to see which has the most sugar per equal weight.

Keeping it real

Whilst it’s important for your to become more familiar with food labels, it’s of equal importance to remember that we need only worry about them in relation to processed foods.  Rather than obsess over the nutritional content between one food pack and the other, you’d be better off sticking to natural whole foods as much as possible. That way you know exactly what you’re getting without having to fuss over food labels.

Elsa Jones is a qualified Nutritional Therapist & Author of the No. 1 Bestseller ‘Goodbye Sugar’.


Cutting Down On Sugar – Sugar Swaps

Often clients are surprised when I tell them that reducing their sugar intake doesn’t have to involve huge sacrifices. Most of the time, making simple swaps is all that it takes to considerably lower your sugar intake. I’m a big believer that making small changes to your diet can make a big difference to how you look and feel. It’s the small, healthier choices we make on a day to day basis that add up over time to give us big results.

So, with that in mind I’ve put together 8 examples of simple food swaps you can make in the supermarket to lower your sugar intake. I’ve chosen 8 everyday foods that feature in many people’s trolleys. Quite often there is a huge variation in sugar content even amongst the exact same food. So, it really pays to look at labels when choosing which product to go for.

A really simple and useful way of gauging sugar content is to remember that: 

1tsp of sugar = 4 grams

So, for example, if a granola bar contains 16 grams of sugar per serving that’s equivalent to approximately 4 teaspoons of sugar which is rather a lot.

If you want to compare one brand over another, it can useful to look at the sugar content per 100g (as I’ve illustrated below), particularly where the ‘per portion’ weight is different.

Note: It’s important to be aware that dairy, fruit and vegetables will contain a certain amount of naturally occurring sugars which we don’t need to overly concern ourselves about. It’s the additional sugar that has been ‘added’ by the food manufacturer that we are more concerned about. So, for example, the ‘Just Food Tomato Soup’ listed below contains naturally occurring sugars from the tomatoes but contains no added sugar.

8 Food Swaps To Lower Your Sugar Intake.

Yogurt Swap to reduce sugar intake

breakfast bar swap to reduce sugar intake

granola swap to reduce sugar intake

Jam Swap to reduce sugar intake

baked beans swap to reduce sugar intake

Soup Swap to reduce sugar intakeChocolate biscuit Swap to reduce sugar intake

pasta sauce Swap to reduce sugar intake

Elsa Jones is a qualified Nutritional Therapist and Author of the No. 1 Bestseller ‘Goodbye Sugar’.

RTE ‘Sugar Crash’ Documentary: Tips To Reduce Your Sugar Intake

So last night I featured in an RTE 1 documentary called ‘Sugar Crash’ which explored Ireland’s excessive sugar consumption and its effect on our health. It also saw a family of self confessed sugar addicts cut sugar from their diet for 30 days. The documentary was presented very well by Dr. Eva Orsmond and featured many leading experts on the topic including Professor Donal O’Shea, Dr. Robert Lustig, Dr. Aseem Malhotra and Damon Gameau. (Watch the full episode at the end of this blog)

I was delighted to feature as an expert in the documentary. My role was to assess how much sugar the Ryan family from Kilkenny were consuming on a daily basis and to inform them of exactly where the sugar was coming from in their diet. This involved going through their weekly shop as well as their fridge and presses to identify all the forms of sugar they were consuming.

A lot of people have told me they would have loved to have seen more of the Ryan’s journey and how they reduced their sugar intake but unfortunately there just wasn’t time to show all that we filmed in a 1 hour documentary. However, I thought I would use this blog to share some of the revelations that were made and advice given behind the scenes so that more people can learn from and take inspiration from the Ryan’s experience.

Ryan family

So, the World Health Organisation recommends that for optimal health we limit our intake of free sugars to no more than 6 teaspoons per day. The Ryan family were consuming over 3 times more than this on a daily basis. However with a few simple changes and swaps to their diet they managed to make the following reductions and now are well within the WHO recommendations:

Ryan Family Sugar Consumption After ‘Sugar Crash’ Documentary

Dad Ollie

Current Daily Average = 5tsp (was 22tsp)

Mum Louise

Current Daily Average = 5tsp (was 9tsp)

Jamie (age 14)

Current Daily Average = 3tsp (was 17tsp)

Annie (age 4)

Current Daily Average = 3tsp (was 12tsp)

May (age 2)

Current Daily Average = 2tsp (was 5tsp)

As a result Ollie’s cholesterol went from 6.8 to 5.2 in just 30 days and both lost visceral fat (the most dangerous kind) from their bodies. As Louise herself said in the documentary ‘the proof is in the pudding’ and indeed it is!


So, what everyone wants to know now is WHAT they were eating that made their sugar intake so high and what changes they made to reduce their intake. So, here are some insights:

To help the Ryan’s reduce their sugar intake I identified the BIGGEST sources of sugar in their diet which were:

Chocolate e.g.  KitKats, snack bars, chocolate fingers/digestives etc.

Breakfast cereals e.g. Frozen cereal, cornflakes

Breakfast Biscuits/Bars

Capri suns

Lucozade Sport



Breakfast Muffins + Jam

Cakes e.g. chocolate biscuit cake

Diet Yogurts

Petit Filous

Baked Beans

Sweets e.g. jellies & marshmallows

Orange Juice

For 30 days the Ryan’s cut out chocolate, sweets, biscuits and soft drinks from their diet. Instead the kids were given whole fruits for snacks/treats and Louise made home-made low sugar treats for the family such as banana bread, granola bars & tea brack. Louise said she was pleasantly surprised by how well the kids adapted to the changes and they all felt the better for it.

Then, they just made simple swaps to everyday foods. So, for example, they switched to low sugar cereals such as Weetabix and Low Sugar Oat Cheerio’s. They switched to reduced sugar baked beans and low sugar yogurts and cut out the fruit juices and sports drinks. Chocolate/sweets/biscuits etc. were introduced back as occasional treats not everyday foods.

So, you can see that by making small simple changes to your diet, you can dramatically reduce you and your family’s sugar intake. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, small changes can make a big difference as the Ryan Family have illustrated so well. So, now it’s time we all put sugar back where it belongs i.e. something we have as an occasional treat, but not a daily diet staple!

Check back soon for more blog tips/recipes to help you reduce your sugar intake. In the meantime, you can check if your sugar cravings are beyond the norm by taking the following quiz from my book ‘Goodbye Sugar’ http://www.elsajonesnutrition.ie/index.php/goodbye-sugar/are-your-sugar-cravings-out-of-control/

You can also try some recipes from the book http://www.elsajonesnutrition.ie/index.php/goodbye-sugar/goodbye-sugar-recipes/

10 Healthy Lunch Suggestions

Lunch is one of my favourite meals of the day (well, actually that’s a lie because I have 3 favourite meals of the day! :) ) I really think that being able to look forward to a nice lunch helps you get through your morning workload and breaks the day nicely. It’s also a great way to energize your body for the afternoon ahead so you don’t hit a slump come 3 O Clock!

Below are some healthy lunch ideas, tips & suggestions:

Soup - is a comforting lunch option particularly on cold winter days and is a great way to get your veggies in. Just make sure to always include a source of protein in your soup or on the side so that it’s a balanced meal. If it’s a filling soup with plenty of protein and veg you may not need to have anything on the side e.g. lentil & vegetable soup. If you’d like something on the side, a couple of oat cakes or rye crisp breads with a topping of choice is a great alternative to bread.

For convenience, consider making up a large batch of soup in advance which you can store in the fridge or freezer. Soup is handy to put into a thermos flask for work or a transportable container to reheat in work.

Sandwiches - Bread in moderation is fine, but, so many people are stuck in a sandwich rut at lunchtimes which means they end up eating a lot of bread and miss out on other more healthful lunch options. I would encourage you not to get into the habit of eating sandwiches or bread for lunch on a daily basis.

If you do choose to have a sandwich, make sure to include a good portion of protein such as tuna or chicken and include plenty of salad. When choosing a bread, opt for a sugar free variety with minimum of 2 grams fibre per slice, ideally more. Wholegrain bread is best, look for bread made from either (or a combination) of: whole grain wheat, whole rye, whole oats, wheat germ, amaranth, barley, buckwheat, millet, spelt, quinoa or bulgur. Moderation is key, two slices of bread in a day is more than enough, particularly if you’re watching your weight.

oat cake tooppingsSalads - Follow 4 simple steps below to create a nutritionally balanced salad:

Choose a protein rich food or a combination if you wish, below are some ideas: Chicken, turkey, ham hard boiled egg, hummus, mozzarella, feta, tuna, salmon, sardines, chick peas, butter beans, kidney, cannellini beans.

Combine the protein with a range of salads/veggies. Below are some ideas: Mixed leaves, rocket, baby spinach, avocado, tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, grated carrot/courgette, celery, onion, sprouts.

Add a healthy dressing (optional).  A tablespoon of olive oil with a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar works a treat.

Add one portion of slow release carbohydrate to serve with or alongside your salad (optional) e.g. Oat Cakes, Rye crisp bread, wholegrain bread, Quinoa, Bulgur wheat, Brown rice, wholemeal pasta

Leftovers - I’m a big fan of making lunch out of leftovers from last nights dinner. I often take this into consideration at dinner time by cooking a little extra or if I fancy a second helping at dinner, I console myself by deciding to have that second helping for lunch instead the following day. That way I get two meals out of what I’ve cooked and never feel overly full.

Top Tip: I often cook up a pot of quinoa at the start of the week, store it in the fridge and then throw it into soups and salads at lunch time. Keeping a few cooked hard boiled eggs in the fridge is also super handy for a quick but filling lunch/snack option.

10 Simple & Healthy Lunch Suggestions

© 2018: Elsa Jones Nutritionist | Telephone: 087 66 55 874 | Email: info@elsajonesnutrition.ie
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