Going sour on sweet stuff: Why is sugar bad for you?

Sugar, a type of carbohydrate that occurs naturally in some foods and is artificially added to others, is associated with a host of health problems from tooth decay to diabetes and heart disease.

The problem lies with the sugar added to processed foods and beverages and not the sugar that occurs naturally in fruits, milk, etc. This added sugar, which comes in various forms such as high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose and fruit juice concentrate, can be unhealthy if consumed in excess.

“The amount of sugar added to food and drinks should contribute no more than 10 per cent of a day’s total calorie count. This translates to between 40g and 55g of added sugar, or between eight and 11 teaspoons a day,” says Dr Joan Khoo, Chief and Senior Consultant, Department of Endocrinology, Changi General Hospital.

For additional health benefits, the World Health Organisation recommends that daily intake of added sugar remain below 5 per cent or about 25g (6 tsp) of total calories.

Limit your consumption of foods/beverages with added sugar such as:

  • Breakfast cereals/bars

  • Cakes, cookies, candy

  • Ice-cream, desserts

  • Canned fruits

  • Soups, sauces

  • Soft drinks, juices

  • Jam, kaya

  • Condensed milk

  • 3-in-1 coffee, tea

The harmful effects of sugar:

Obesity, chronic diseases: A high intake of sweet foods and drinks can cause obesity which in turn can increase your risk of diabetes, cardiovascular or heart disease, and other ailments. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that excess sugar consumption increased your risk of dying of cardiovascular disease.

Tooth decay: Acid is produced when the bacteria in your mouth breaks down sugar. This acid dissolves the surface of the tooth causing decay.

Mood swings: Sugar quickly turns into glucose in your bloodstream leading to a spike in blood sugar followed by an equally sudden drop in it. This can cause mood swings and lead to depression/anxiety.

Lower intake of nutritious foods: Sugar’s ‘empty calories’ can fill you up and prevent you from having more nutritious foods.

Ageing skin: Sugar attaches to proteins in your bloodstream and creates harmful molecules which can damage collagen and elastin and age your skin.

How can you satisfy your sweet tooth, without too much harm?

“If you have a sweet tooth, all is not lost. The key is to eat healthily and strategically,” assures Dr Khoo. She recommends that you opt for naturally sweet foods such as berries, apples, oranges, nuts and honey, which also contain proteins, fibre, vitamins and other essential nutrients.

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