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Sugar, friend or foe?

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Let us address the myth: sugar isn’t evil, it’s our body’s primary energy source. However, over-consumption of sugar may lead to certain health issues. Our food and especially drinks now are trending towards a more sugary side of the scale, so it’s important that we understand this sweet, glittery substance and its effect on us.

Natural sugar comes in fruit, milk and cheese. Processed sugar, typically refers to table sugar which comes from sugar cane or sugar beets, which are both processed to extract the sugar.
Although both types of sugars are broken down for energy, natural sugar is packaged with fibre and water which slows down the digestion of glucose. This means you won’t experience the energy high/insulin spike and subsequent sugar crash that you get when consuming processed sugar.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), sugar that is added to our food and instantly absorbed by the digestive system is classified as ‘free sugars’.
Honey, along with maple syrup, agave nectar and rice malt syrup, are in the ‘free sugars’ club. Free sugars are also found in fruit juices, as they tend not to contain the fibre found in whole fruit and vegetables. A concern with free sugars is that it makes it easy to consume excess calories; you may drink a can of soft drink but you would not eat four apples because the fibre in the apples makes you feel full.
But there’s a caveat, “How much sugar is already in your blood will determine how the body uses the sugar,” says Julie Baker, Clinical Oncology Dietitian of Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). “If you already have a lot of sugar in your system, then what you just digested will form either fat or glycogen, the storage form of glucose that’s used for quick energy. It doesn’t matter if it’s junk food or fruit.”
The risks of overconsumption are the same for all sugars. The main concerns are:
• weight gain
• increased risk of illness
• blood sugar peaks and crashes
• increased risk of tooth decay

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends women should consume no more than 100 calories a day (6 tsps) and men should consume no more than 150 calories a day (9 tsps) from added sugars.
Here are some tips on how you can start reducing your sugar intake:
1. Focus on wholefoods – opt for whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts and seeds. They are packed with nutrients and fiber, which will satisfy your body’s needs, reducing your cravings for sugar.
2. Cut back on the amount of sugar you add to food and drinks, such as tea, coffee and pancakes – try adding fruits instead of syrup to your pancakes.
3. Look at the labels – If the total sugar content is over 22.5g per 100g the food is high in sugar; if it is below 5g per 100g the food is low in sugar. Also check on the ingredient list, they are usually hiding under these names:
• Sucrose
• Glucose
• Maltose
• Lactose
• Fructose
• Molasses
• Hydrolysed starch
• Agave nectar
• Corn syrup
• Rice malt syrup
• Honey
• Golden syrup
4. Replace sugar-sweetened beverages options or choose water!
5. Reduce sugar in your recipes – with most recipes, you can reduce the sugar by half without noticing too much difference in taste and texture.

Some of the most unassuming foods have high sugar content. Here are some Malaysian favourites that you should watch out for:

Photo: Supplied

Sugar taken in moderate amounts is good for our body. After all, we need constant fuel to keep up with our daily lifestyle. You don’t need to quit sugar to be healthy. Remember the key to healthy living is moderation.


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