Different types and forms of sugar on display on a textured cloth

Sugars are a class of carbohydrate that provides energy for the body.

Do you have a sweet tooth and crave for sugary, sweet stuff? Foods laden with sugar are often tempting. Some sugars are found naturally in the foods you eat and drink (e.g. milk, honey, fruit and vegetables) while others are added during food preparation and processing (e.g. desserts and sweetened drinks).

Regardless of the type of sugar, your body breaks them down in the same way into glucose which enters your bloodstream and provides energy for your organs to function properly.

Related: An Introduction To Calories

What Kind of Sugars Are There?

Mix of different types of sweets and sugar

Here is a list of sugar options you may have in your kitchen pantry or seen in the supermarket:

White sugar

They come in the form of castor or icing sugar but are all the same. White sugar contains 99.9% sucrose, a type of sugar extracted from sugar cane or sugar beet.

Raw sugar

Commonly known as coffee sugar, these golden–coloured crystals contain 99% sucrose.

Brown sugar

Often used in baking, brown sugar contains 95% sucrose and 5% molasses, which explains the toffee flavour and moistness.

Raw and brown sugars are NOT healthier than white sugars. While they may contain some minerals, they provide hardly any health benefits.

Sugar alcohols
e.g. sorbitol and xylitol

Found naturally in plants, they are used in sugar–free sweets and beverages.

Sugar substitutes
e.g. aspartame and saccharin

These are artificial sweeteners.

Both sugar alcohols and sugar substitutes have almost no calories and do not contribute to tooth decay or affect blood glucose levels.

Besides sucrose, common types of sugar include:

  • fructose and glucose, found in fruit, vegetables and honey
  • lactose, found in milk and dairy products
  • maltose, found in malted drinks and beer

Related: How Well Do You Know Your Sugar?

Does Sugar Cause Diabetes?

Person with diabetes taking her blood glucose readings

A high sugar intake contributes to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes due to the links between high sugar intake and obesity[1]. Drinking sweetened beverages (soft drinks, fruit juices, sports drinks, sweet tea and coffee), in particular, have been shown to increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes[2].

Remember, a diet high in calories from any food sources — not just sugar-containing foods — can contribute to obesity and increase your risk for Type 2 diabetes.

If you are between the ages of 18 and 39, find out your risk by taking the Diabetes Risk Assessment. Take the first step towards beating diabetes.


Related: The Not-So-Sweet Truth about Sugar

What Can I Do to Prevent Diabetes?

Woman checking the nutritional value of tomatoes before purchasing them

Follow these tips to reduce sugar in your diet:

Read Ingredient Labels

When walking around the supermarket, you may come across product packages claiming, “sugar–free”, “no added sugar”, “unsweetened” and so on.

What you may not know is that “no added sugar” only means no extra sugar was added during the manufacturing process. It does not mean the product has fewer calories. In fact, the product may already be naturally high in sugars, such as fruit juices and canned fruits.

To get more accurate information about a food product, look at its nutrition information panel. This will give you a better idea of its nutrition benefits such as the amount of minerals, vitamins, whole grains and fibre it contains.

Another thing to note is that sugar is called by many names, such as evaporated cane juice, fructose sweeteners, fruit juice concentrates, high–fructose corn syrup, liquid fructose, malt syrup, maple syrup and molasses.

When reading the panel, check how the ingredients are listed. Because ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, a product that lists sugar at the top of the ingredient list is likely to be high in added sugar content.

When in doubt, use the Healthier Choice Symbol to guide your grocery purchases. Products with the symbols are generally lower in sugar.

Reduce Intake of Sweetened Drinks

Learn to drink coffee and tea without sugar. Start by slowly adding less sugar each day. Once you get used to it, you will love the real taste of coffee and tea.

Drink Water

Plain water is the best drink. If you don’t like the taste of plain water, try infusing it with fruit and herbs. Experiment with rose, lemongrass, mint leaves and lemon to find a flavour that you enjoy.

Exercise Restraint When Shopping

To avoid stocking up on sweetened drinks and snacks when you shop for grocery, never shop when you are hungry.

Choose Wisely When Dining Out

Look out for the Healthier Choice Symbol which can be found on food stalls’ cleanliness and hygiene label. It tells you that the stall has wholegrain options, uses healthier oils or offers food that contains fewer calories.

If you must have something to drink other than water, opt for sugar-free or sugar-reduced drinks.

For dessert, choose fresh, whole fruits. In this way, you get to taste something sweet AND nutritious.

Eating too much sweet stuff only means gaining extra, “empty” calories. So, save that sweet treat for special occasions and cut down on sugar daily!


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References

  1. Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, (2014). Draft Carbohydrates and Health Report. 89–90 & 95–96.
    Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/scientific-advisory-committee-on-nutrition

  2. Malik, V. S., Popkin, B. M., Bray, G. A., et al. (2010). Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 33(11), 2477–2483.
    Retrieved from http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/33/11/2477