Sugar, a common additive in many foods, may be doing your body more harm than you realise.
Where saturated fat was once singled out as the leading cause of obesity, these days medical professionals are making a strong case that sugar is the real culprit.
How much sugar do we consume?
In days gone by, sugar was only available in naturally occurring forms such as fruit and honey, nutrient-dense foods that were limited in availability seasonally and geographically. Today, refined sugar is widely available and has made its way into just about everything we eat. According to the American Heart Association, Americans today consume 88g of sugar, compared to less than 10g in 1822.
Experts trace the pervasiveness of sugar to the identification of saturated fat as the cause of heart disease in the 60s. This caused fat to be removed from items like milk and yoghurt, but that left these ‘skinny’ items unpalatable. To make them taste better, sugar was added. When low-fat items became must-haves because consumers thought they were doing their heart a big favour, they did not realise that they were heavily dosing themselves with sugar.
On top of that, food manufacturers began to add fructose in the form of high fructose corn syrup to soft drinks and processed foods to titillate taste buds and stimulate the appetite. This excessive inclusion of refined sugar to the diet can mess with our bodies, promoting diseases and conditions like insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
Too much of a good thing is bad
Does this mean we should avoid sugar completely?
No, says Food Equation dietitian and sports nutritionist Jane Freeman, who feels that sugar in moderation is not harmful. “There are certain groups of people – such as those who are, the elderly and growing children – who need more energy from sugar,” she explains.
If you were training for a marathon, for instance, you would need sugar on hand so that your reserves of glucose are not depleted. For most people, however, it’s best to stick to the World Health Organisation’s recommendation to keep sugar intake to no more than 25g a day, or 5-10% of one’s total diet.
“Sugar is not the new fat per se,” clarifies Freeman. “It’s an empty calorie food nutrient that nutritionists have recommended the limit of for many years. It’s also not a poison and is not the sole cause of these diseases.
The point is that sugar makes food taste good. It’s easy to eat, and when it’s consumed in excess – which is easy thanks to the amount added or hidden in almost every food pack in the supermarket shelf – it certainly can have a hand in contributing to obesity, fatty livers, insulin resistance, diabetes and heart disease.”
Sugar in Your Drink
According to the Health Promotion Board, Singaporeans consume 60g of sugar a day on average, more than double the recommended amount. In order to keep your consumption in check, here’s a list of how much sugar some local drinks contain. (For comparison, a can of Coca-cola contains 26.25g of sugar)
Soy Bean Milk with Sugar
Horlicks with Semi-skimmed milk