In Singapore, one in nine adults aged 18 to 69 has diabetes, a chronic disease in which blood sugar levels in the body remain high for prolonged periods. Diabetes can have long-term consequences including blindness, heart disease and the need for amputation.
Sugar from foods and drinks is one of the key contributing factors for the increased risk of diabetes. You may not realise, but sugar can be found everywhere in the things we drink and eat. From your daily kopi or teh to the sauces in your favourite dishes, it is easy to consume more than the recommended daily sugar intake in a day.
On a sweeter note, you can easily reduce the amount of sugar in your diet with these four steps.
1. Check and Read Food Labels
Being more careful about what you eat is vital in healthy diet management. It all starts in the supermarket. Look out for HPB’s “Lower in Sugar” Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS) when deciding which food and drink products to buy, as the HCS indicates the product meets strict nutritional guidelines set by HPB.
These days, many brands also offer unsweetened, natural sugar substitutes or reduced-sugar options for our favourite drinks, snacks and cooking or baking ingredients. Be careful not to be duped by claims of “no added sugar”— these products sometimes still can contain a lot of natural sugar substitutes. The best way is to check how much sugar there is on the nutrition information panel.
2. Understanding the Different Types of Sugar
Sugar comes in many forms. Fructose, corn syrup, sucrose and maltose are just a few of the terms used to refer to sugar in our food and drinks. All of these types of sugars add extra calories to your diet and have an impact on your health. Learning to spot these sugary substances on nutritional labels can help you cut down the amount of sugar in your diet.
Here are some common sugars and the calories they contain per 100 grams.
3. Replace Sugar with Sugar Alternatives
Cutting down on sugar does not mean you have to give up all things sweet. Choosing food and drinks that use sugar alternatives in place of regular sugar can help you reduce the amount of sugar in your diet, without compromising on flavour.
Novel sugars such as allulose and isomaltulose closely resemble regular sugar and come from natural sources like fruit and vegetables. Their advantage is they have a lower glycaemic index compared to regular sugar. This means energy is released more slowly in our bodies, preventing rapid spikes in blood sugar level.
Another alternative to regular sugar is artificial sweeteners, which may be chemical-based, e.g. aspartame, or derived from natural sources, e.g. stevia. It is a common misconception that sweeteners are bad for your health. Compared to sugar, sweeteners contain less or zero calories and do not affect blood sugar levels, making them helpful for weight management and suitable for people with type 2 diabetes. They also meet strict standards set by Singapore Food Agency and are safe for consumption.
4. Limit Your Daily Sugar Intake
Our sugar consumption should be no more than 10 percent of our daily energy intake. For most adults, that is about 10 teaspoons of sugar (based on a 2000-daily calorie intake). If you are determined enough, a further reduction to 5 teaspoons (25g) of sugar a day can bring about additional health benefits.
To illustrate, a typical cup of kopi contains over four teaspoons of sugar. A plate of mee siam could contain up to 10 teaspoons’ worth! Now imagine how much sugar we unknowingly consume each day and how much of an impact that could have on our health in the long term. Consciously limit your sugar intake by asking for siu dai (less sweet) kopi or teh, or low-sugar versions of bubble tea.
The good news is that reducing our sugar intake can be easy. All it takes is a little mindfulness and some healthier lifestyle choices. Over time, as your taste buds get used to food and drinks that are not as sweet, you can drastically reduce the amount of sugar you consume every day!