Sugar has been the talk of the town for the past few years. Many studies have shown the correlation between excessive sugar intakes and increased risk of ill-health, as mentioned in our previous blog post. In Singapore and all over the world, efforts are being made to work towards reducing our sugar intake.
But first - what exactly is sugar?
Sugar is a type of simple carbohydrate which can be used as a source of energy. As compared to starch and dietary fibre - which are complex carbohydrates, sugar is digested and absorbed in the body more quickly. The simplest form that sugar gets broken down into is glucose and we do need it in moderate amounts to function daily. Our individual needs will depend on our genetics, metabolism, physical activity level and other factors.
Sugar in the form of fructose can be found in whole foods like fruits and starchy vegetables, which also provide fibre and various nutrients and phytochemicals. Dairy products also contain sugar in the form of lactose.
There are also natural sources of sugar such as coconut sugar and honey which are unrefined and retain some vitamins and minerals.
High fructose corn syrup, maltose, maltodextrin, molasses, nectar, and fruit juice concentrate are some of the types of added sugars that can be found in processed and packaged foods.
Other sugar definitions
You might have also heard different terms being thrown around when it comes to sugar in food such as total sugar, free sugar, and added sugar, so let’s get to the definitions of these terms.
Total sugar: Total sugars comprise all types of sugar present in a food, regardless of the source.
Free sugar: Free sugars refer to any form of sugar added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, including sugars naturally present in whole or juiced fruits and vegetables, honey, or dairy products.
Added sugar: Sugars added to foods during processing or preparation (e.g. brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, fruit juice concentrates). Added sugars exclude naturally occurring sugars present in whole or juiced fruits and vegetables, or dairy products.
Intrinsic sugars: Naturally occurring sugars present in the structure of whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.
What are the recommended guidelines for sugar intake?
The general guidelines are about 10% of your daily calorie intake. On a standard 2,000 calorie diet, that’s about 50g or 10 teaspoons of sugar a day.
However in 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that a further reduction to 5% or below would provide additional health benefits. That’s about 25g, or 5 teaspoons a day.
These guidelines are referring to added sugars, not including the sugars naturally found in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.
Challenges to reducing sugar intake
If your diet involves mostly eating out or packaged foods, then sticking to 10 teaspoons of sugar a day might be a challenge as there are added sugars hidden everywhere in these foods. For example, a can of soda can pack up to 7 teaspoons of sugar.
Another big factor is of course taste. Sugar is very palatable and with exposure to high-sugar foods, even in foods we don’t expect (e.g ketchup), our palates have been conditioned to desire a particular level of sweetness.The need for sugar to make something more tasty then becomes part of our everyday lives.
How to slowly reduce your sugar intake
The good news is that with time, you can definitely get used to the taste of reduced sweetness. Our taste buds will turnover every few weeks so while week 1 of going lower sugar might feel unbearable, you might find it to be more manageable at week 3.
Here are some ways you can start off with:
1. Read the nutrition labels
When buying packaged foods, it’s good to look at the back of the pack and look at both the ingredients and the nutrition information panel. This will help you figure out how much sugar is in the food product per serving, and where the sugar is coming from. When comparing labels, make sure you compare across similar products (e.g cookie with cookie) and use the per 100g values as the serving sizes of different brands will vary.
2. Figure out where your sugar intake is coming from
Reading food labels and keeping track of what you eat by using a food diary can help you see where most of your sugar intake lies. Being aware of this can help you make simple changes to keep your intakes in check. Ask yourself questions like “Do I put sugar in my morning coffee/add it during cooking?”, “How much do I add on a daily basis?”. Remember, even natural unrefined sugars like honey or coconut sugar count.
3. Get acquainted with your kitchen
Cooking and preparing your meals at home means that you will have total control of what goes into your food, and how much of it. As mentioned, there are hidden sugars everywhere. Use different herbs and spices to flavour your cooking instead and you will have more appreciation for the natural flavours of food.
We make it easy for you here at The Whole Kitchen
One of our beliefs is that a diet low in sugar is one of the best ways to support good health. We strive to create the lowest sugar versions of your favorite bakes.
The sources of sugar we use are naturally occurring in fresh and dried fruit, or with unrefined coconut sugar, or locally sourced honey. We are completely transparent with this, and it’s reflected on our easy to read labels and simple, all natural ingredients list.
Our sweet products - cakes, muffins, energy pearls, and condiments are all lower in sugar and only sweetened in moderate amounts when needed. As a result, you get treats that are packed with nutritious whole foods and will give you a slow release of energy instead of a sugar spike.
Even with natural sugars, we are constantly working to reduce the amount we use without compromising on taste. Join us on our low sugar journey as we continue to bring foods that not only taste good, but are beneficial to your health!
If you want to dive deeper into sugar, it’s health effects, and why health campaigns around sugar have to be put in place, check out these sources:
WATCH: Jamie’s Sugar Rush Documentary - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spCVTRHnZ1E
READ: The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes - https://www.amazon.com/Case-Against-Sugar-Gary-Taubes/dp/0307701646
- Health Hub: https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/1094/10-hidden-sugar-bombshells-in-your-diet
- WHO: https://www.who.int/news/item/04-03-2015-who-calls-on-countries-to-reduce-sugars-intake-among-adults-and-children
- Mela, D. J., & Woolner, E. M. (2018). Perspective: Total, Added, or Free? What Kind of Sugars Should We Be Talking About?. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 9(2), 63–69. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmx020