Photo: Michael Kuelbel, rf123.com
Sugar has been making the headlines recently, and in a negative way. The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a release in April warning of the rapid rise of diabetes across all regions of the world. One of the main driving factors: obesity, attributed to a lack of physical activity and an unhealthy diet.
In Singapore, following the WHO’s announcement, Members of Parliament suggested imposing a sugar tax or issuing mandatory labels stating the sugar content in foods to discourage unhealthy eating, and in turn, prevent obesity.
Some people have likened sugar addiction to drug addiction, and have gone the whole hog to eliminate it completely from their diet. Sugar lover Kayce Teo bravely agreed to put aside her love of gummy sweets and bubble tea for this experiment.
“I do not use the word ‘addict’ lightly, but as much as I hate to admit it, I am a sugar addict. I can finish off a 300g packet of gummy sweets in one sitting, and no matter how full I am, I have a second stomach for desserts such as ice cream and chocolate – or so my friends tell me.
“When I volunteered to try cutting out added sugar from my diet for two weeks, I didn’t know what I was getting into. Besides being mentally challenging, the experiment made me hyper aware of how there’s sugar in everything, from cakes to sauces and condiments.
“During my first week of sugar avoidance, I found I became easily irritable. Things like a small hiccup at work would have me gritting my teeth, and it became increasingly difficult to focus without my ever-present packet of gummies to chew on. I also felt tired constantly – though I wasn’t sure if it was due to the reduced sugar intake or a general lack of restful sleep.
“I had to control my urge to eat the chocolates in my fridge, and I failed – twice. I also had trouble resisting my usual kopitiam iced tea and bubble tea fixes.
“Things got a little better in the second week, and it became easier to say no to sugary snacks and drinks. Despite that, I found myself looking forward to the end of my self-imposed diet.
“I have since reverted to eating everything, but I’m now more aware of which foods have added sugar. I’m also trying to reduce my dependence on gummy sweets to get through the workday, although I don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely eliminate sugar from my diet. What’s life without a little sweetness?”
Sugar addiction is real
“The craving-and-reward effect you get when you consume sugar is similar to that of addictive drugs,” says Claudia Correia, dietitian at Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre. “In some animal studies, sugar addiction has been shown to have the same withdrawal symptoms as other addictions.”
This could be the reason why people with a sweet tooth have difficulty staying away from sugary foods, she adds. So it’s important to recognise and treat the addiction, to prevent obesity and other sugar-related health conditions.
It’s more than just diabetes
Besides causing diabetes and weight gain, high sugar intake is also linked to higher levels of unhealthy fat and lower HDL cholesterol, or good fat, says Dr Stanley Liew, specialist in endocrinology and consultant at Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre.
Also read: 10 easy food swops to help you lose weight
“Frequent consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is also associated with a greater risk of fatty liver disease, particularly in overweight and obese people,” he adds. It adversely impacts your dental health too, increasing the risk of tooth decay.
Aim for “no added sugar”
“Keeping your sugar intake to below 10 per cent of your total energy intake can significantly reduce your risk of obesity and tooth decay,” says Claudia.
What that means: consuming less than nine teaspoons of sugar for a 1,800-calorie-a-day diet. However, Claudia adds that there is growing evidence that keeping to below 5 per cent – or four-and-a-half teaspoons of sugar – a day has an even more positive impact on your health.
That said, she advises against going to the extreme and adopting a sugar-free diet. “Foods with complex carbohydrates or naturally occurring sugars also have essential nutrients such as B vitamins, fibre and antioxidants. Omitting them from your diet can have a negative impact on your health.”
So instead of going completely sugar-free, Claudia suggests “substituting refined starch, such as white rice and white bread, with low-glycaemic index and fibre-rich foods, which keep your blood sugar levels more stable.”
Reducing your sugar intake can also help you achieve your weight-loss goals, and lower your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, since your blood cholesterol and blood pressure tend to go down when your weight decreases.