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You know eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain and increased risk of diabetes, so you’ve been making an effort to cut down on refined sugar.

When you order kopi or teh, you ask for siu dai; when you order dessert like ice kacang, you ask for less syrup.

But what about natural or unrefined sugars like honey and brown sugar? Are they actually healthier? Let’s find out!

Sweet Nothings

First, a recap on the trouble with eating too much sugar. Sugar gives us empty calories — calories with little to no nutrients.

When we consume excess calories, our bodies store them as fat. This could then lead to health problems like obesity and diabetes. We should limit our sugar intake to nine to eleven teaspoons per day.

Good thing we’ve got healthier options like honey and brown sugar, right? Well, not so fast!

Related: 10 Hidden Sugar Bombshells in Your Diet

Honey, You’re (not Always) the One for Me

It’s true that honey comes from a natural source and has more vitamins and minerals than refined sugar.

But sugar is sugar: both honey and white sugar have similar calories. In fact, honey is slightly higher in calories than refined white sugar, so consume in moderation!

Related: Healthy Vs Hype

No Brown(ie) Points

Is brown sugar the better sugar? Will your kuehs and cakes be healthier if you bake with brown sugar instead of refined white sugar? The short answer is no.

Although brown sugar has minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron, they come in such small amounts that there is no real health benefit to choosing brown over white.

Plus, brown sugar and white sugar contain the same amount of calories, so use in moderation!

Related: Hidden Sugars and Diabetes

Is That Sugar or Not?

Besides watching how much honey and brown sugar we eat, it would also be helpful to look out for added sugars that go by other names. Spotting added sugars can be tricky, as they're not always labelled as “sugar” in the ingredients list.

Some examples:

  • Sucrose

  • Glucose

  • Maltose

  • Fructose

  • Corn syrup

  • Agave nectar

  • Malt syrup

Slash the Sugar

Want to cut your sugar intake? Use these strategies!

Symbol of Health

When grocery shopping, look out for products with the “Lower in Sugar” Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS). You’ll find it on items like packet drinks and dried fruit.

Not Too Saucy

Lots of savoury hawker food are high in sugar. Take a plate of char siew rice; it has 3 teaspoons of sugar. And a bowl of mee siam? A whopping 10 teaspoons! The next time you’re eating out, ask for less sauce or gravy on your food.

Sweet Subs

Want some sweetness in your teas, coffees and home-made desserts without the excess calories? Try using sugar substitutes. Some low-cal sweeteners are xylitol, sorbitol, and stevia — fun fact: stevia has no calories! Sweet.

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