Sugar and Health

“You know lah, as old folks get older they lose their sense of taste,” Mdm Tan Lee Choo comments. The retiree was sharing how her elderly mother-in-law insisted on adding a teaspoonful of sugar to her cup of already-sweetened 3-in-1 coffee every morning. 

It may not be her sense of taste, though—Great-grandma could be a sugar addict!

Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice

Sugar and SpiceFrom lactose in milk to fructose in fruit and honey, sugar is a carbohydrate that occurs naturally in a wide range of foods. We need some sugar in our diet to supply quick energy for our muscles and brain. Many processed foods however, contain added sugar—that’s energy packed into loads of calories with very few nutrients, otherwise known as ‘empty’ calories. Not just that, but excess sugar is linked to tooth decay, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Nothing sweet about those!

Lim Simi? (What’s Your Drink?)

As you take your seat in the kopi-tiam in the morning and the uncle asks, “Lim simi?”, have a little thought for your brew.

Are you a kopi (coffee) drinker, a tea drinker? Or do you go for soya milk or fruit juice? All of these pack a surprising amount of sugar in their ‘regular’ serving (see the box below).

It’s not hard, though, to make a better choice. Just say “siu dai” (less sweet) when you order your drink, and you’ll already cut about one-and-a-half teaspoons of sugar from your diet.

You’ll appreciate the aromas of your drink more, too. In fact, teh-C-kosong reportedly tastes much like the famous Hong Kong milk tea.

At lunch or dinner, instead of a soft drink, why not opt for a packet drink with a Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS) ? The HCS indicates at least 25% less sugar than a similar product. You are still spoilt for choice, because drinks carrying this logo include Asian drinks like chrysanthemum tea and bandung, juice drinks and canned drinks. Look out also for drinks which are labeled “Unsweetened”, “Less sugar”, “Reduced sugar”, or “Low in sugar”. But really, nothing quenches thirst like water, or is as healthful.


Related: How to Order Healthier Drinks

Sugar content in your drinks

Instead of this: Try this:

Teh (5 tsp)

Teh Siu Dai (4 tsp)

Teh O Kosong (0 tsp)

Kopi (4 tsp) 

Kopi C Siu Dai (2.9 tsp)

Kopi O kosong (0 tsp)

Packaged fruit juice (6.5 tsp); fresh juice (5 tsp)

Packaged juice with HCS (4 tsp)

Bubble tea (6 tsp)

Bubble tea with HCS (3 tsp)
Canned soda (7 tsp)

Carbonated HCS drink (4 tsp)

Try it less sweet—your future healthier self will thank you for it!

Got a Craving?

Cravings for sugarAny of us is as likely as Great-grandma to have a sweet tooth. Some people have even compared sugar addiction to a drug problem! Not least, it’s because sugar is just as hard to ‘quit’.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), nutritionally we do not need any added sugar in our diet and we should reduce our sugar intake to as low as possible. However if we do consume sugar, WHO recommends to keep it to no more than  10 teaspoons of sugar (based on a daily 2000 Calorie intake).

Part of the reason for over-consumption is that some of the sugar we eat is ‘hidden’ in our food, although we may not be adding any ourselves. Even before you take your first sip of kopi, you might already have had half a teaspoonful, baked into each slice of bread, two teaspoons out of your breakfast cereal packet, or up to five teaspoonsful in that tub of low-fat yoghurt! Other unexpected places where sugar content is high include canned soup, ketchup and other sauces.

Yes, that bottled spaghetti sauce and that salad dressing too! Even dried fruit often has sugar added to it.


Related: 10 Hidden Sugar Bombshells in Your Diet


You Don’t Need It That Sweet

Differnt types of sugarSwitching to sugar substitutes, such as honey, stevia, lohanguo (natural sweeteners) or artificial sweeteners like aspartame, are an option, but they won’t wean you off your sugar craving.

Your taste buds take a while to get used to drinks that are less sweetened, so plan to go slow as you reduce the sugar added to your drink. Start by asking for siu dai or reduced sugar variants of your regular drink at least once a day, then stretch it out to the whole day.

Make sure you tell your friends and family about what you are trying to do. There’s nothing like the support of those sharing your tea break to help change a habit!

Related: Substitute the Sugar and Stay Sweet

A Change for a Lifetime

sugar change for a lifetimeMdm Tan managed to convince Great-grandma not to have that extra teaspoon of sugar in her coffee, especially given their family history of diabetes. In fact, Mdm Tan has been successfully reducing added sugars in all the family meals, through judicious use in her cooking, and by reducing the use of ready-made sauces and convenience foods.

“Slowly, slowly, bit by bit,” she laughs. “Nobody noticed the difference! But I feel better knowing that I am taking care of the family’s health this way.”

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