It’s a lot less than we thought! We cut through the ongoing sugar debate. By Li Yuling
Ice kacang contains 38g – almost 6 teaspoons of sugar! Photo: heinteh / www.123rf.com
My short answer: Try not to eat more than six teaspoons of sugar a day.
Fact 2: Mum was right – sugar is bad for your teeth.
Fact 3: Even if you’re skinny, it’s not okay to have a sweet tooth. Sad but true. Earlier this year, a big study published online in a journal reported that a high-sugar intake increases your risk of dying from heart disease – even if you’re not overweight. And heart disease is currently Singapore’s number two killer (after cancer).
No wonder the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends eating less. WHO’s current recommendation, from 2002, is that sugars should make up less than 10% of total energy intake per day. The new WHO draft guideline also proposes this, but further suggests that a reduction to below 5% of total energy intake per day would have additional benefits.
In simpler terms: 5% of total energy intake is equivalent to around 25 grams or about six teaspoons of sugar per day for an adult of normal Body Mass Index. This is based on daily total energy intake of 2000 calories. Calculate your BMI here.
If you’ve been following the local news, you’ll know that the Singapore Health Promotion Board (HPB) may revise the limit – but the jury is still out. HPB’s current advice is that sugar added to food and drinks should contribute no more than 10% of a day’s total calorie count. This translates to between 40 and 55 grams of added sugar – or between eight and 11 teaspoons a day, depending on your daily energy requirement.
Still wondering how this affects you? Goh Yih Shian, dietitian at Dayspring Corporate Wellness, explains:
Q. Why is it important even for healthy, active individuals to watch their added sugar intake?
A. The keywords here are added sugar. Typically, added sugars are empty calories (read: they have no nutritive value). When sugars exist in nature, such as in fruits, they come with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. However, food with added sugars such as sodas and desserts tend not to have as many nutrients.
If normal weight individuals eat high-sugar items such as confectionery, desserts and sweetened drinks while cutting down on other foods in order to maintain a caloric balance, they can miss out on essential nutrients.
For those who work out frequently, I’d still advise following the guideline of 10% caloric intake from sugar. You’ll need to do about 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise such as aerobics or tennis just to burn off 200 calories from 50 grams of sugar. It takes a lot of activity to burn off extra calories.
Even if an active person is able to burn the excess calories, the intake of added sugars, typically in the form of refined sugars, means that the body has to produce more insulin to bring down her blood sugar levels to normal. Some scientists believe this can tire out the pancreas in the long run, and may contribute to risk of developing diabetes and insulin resistance.
Q. The HPB currently recommends that sugar should account for no more than 10% of a day’s total calorie count. Meanwhile, the WHO recommends halving it for more benefits. What do you think?
A. The meta-analysis conducted by WHO has shown a link between increased sugar intake and increased body weight. I believe the push for reduced sugar intake is a good one. WHO has already met with lots of resistance from the sugar industry in America, so we won’t know what the eventual published guideline will be. As a rule of thumb, it would be wise to minimise our intake of added sugar.
Q. In your opinion, which foods in the Singaporean diet contribute most to our added sugar intake?
A. Desserts and sweetened drinks are definitely top contributors. For instance, many local drinks use condensed milk and sugar syrup. Both are high in sugar.
A kopi (coffee with condensed milk) from the coffeeshop contains 15.33 grams of sugar which amounts to three teaspoons. A cup of bandung has 33 grams of sugar which is a whopping six and a half teaspoons. It’s really easy to exceed the recommended daily limit!