Sugar is a deceptive body wrecker with many names. The bad guy masquerades under fancy names like dextrose, fructose, maltose, sucrose, molasses, high fructose corn syrup and quite a few more, sneaking into your daily diet with you being none the wiser.
We all know there’s a lot of sugar in our ice cream, our ais kacang, and our chocolate cupcakes. But would you guess that the sweet stuff also sneaks into your sambal, your sweet chilli chicken, and even your innocent little wholemeal sandwich?
With Malaysians being the 8th largest consumers of sugar in the world, chowing down on about a whopping 26 teaspoons a day, maybe it’s time to reexamine how much added sugar you’re actually taking in.
How much sugar is too much?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a maximum of 50g per day for a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s about 12 teaspoons. Recent reports are stating that WHO is now lowering that recommendation by half – which means 6 teaspoons.
Here are some easy ways to swap out the sugar:
1. Eat your fruits, don’t drink them
Fruit juice is good for you right? Wrong. Fruit juice passes through your digestive system much faster than a whole fiber-rich fruit can. So even though they’re essentially the same thing, the juice actually speeds up the absorption of sugar in your body. Also, a glass of juice packs in much more natural sugar than a piece of fruit. Picture this: You can very quickly down three glasses of orange juice made from 15 oranges, but can you eat these oranges in the same amount of time? And let’s not even talk about the fruit “drinks” that people think are fruit juices. Those are often laden with loads of added sugar.
2. Order the mixed popcorn at the movies
That sweet crunch from your favourite caramel popcorn comes from a delectable mix of sugar and butter. Halve your added sugar intake by ordering a mix of plain and caramel popcorn instead. You’ll find that it’s not that big a sacrifice as the distinct tastes go really well with each other. You’ll also stop putting yourself through a two-hour long sugar rush. Even better if you only go for the plain popcorn. (but watch the salt intake!)
3. Ask for the right alcohol
Cocktails while you’re trying to watch your sugar intake might sound undoable, but we believe that healthy living is all about moderation. You can still have your fun night out, the trick is to be picky with your choice of party drink. Steer clear of creamy cocktails and stick to hard alcohol. Gin, vodka, light rum – go for it (but not too crazy). Some cocktails also taste great without any added sugar or mixers, like mojitos, daiquiris and other fruit-based ones. So the next time you’re out and about, don’t be afraid to tell your bartender to hold the sugar.
4. Go easy on the sauces
Who doesn’t love a french fry soaked in ketchup? Or a keropok lekor dunked in sweet chilli sauce? The typical ketchup contains 20g of sugar for every 100g (read: that is classified as A LOT of sugar). Sweet chilli sauce packs 6g for each tablespoon. Doesn’t sound like a lot? Here’s some perspective: having lots of sauce with your lekor brings you close to 40% of your recommended daily sugar intake. That’s quite a bit for just one item in your daily food diary. So either go sauce-free, or make a drop of sauce go a longer way. Also remember to ask for your dressing and sauces on the side!
5. Drink ‘kosong’ at the mamak stall (and everywhere else, for that matter)
The limau ais at the mamak is usually made from one calamansi, water, and probably a quarter glass of sugar syrup. As previous fans of less-sweet drinks, we found that ‘kurang manis’ still gave us quite a sugar rush. So lately we’ve been opting for teh ais limau kosong instead. Surprisingly, lime-based drinks and tea still taste good and refreshing without the sugar.
6. Replace biscuits with berries
Stop reaching for the cookie jar for your sweet tooth fix and pick from the assortment of berries instead. Berries have the lowest sugar content amongst all fruits and are high in antioxidants and other nutrients. It doesn’t hurt that they’re also awfully pretty and juicy too.
7. Swap the ‘health’ bars with some nuts
If you’re like us, you probably reach for a health (or energy) bar sometimes instead of a candy bar. You might think you’re making the healthier choice. They’re good for refueling after a vigorous hour at the gym, but not that great when you’re just feeling peckish and need a snack.These seemingly-innocent bars typically pack about 15g upwards of sugar, hidden behind all that nutritional-looking granola. So next time, munch on some almonds, cashews, or pistachios instead. They’re crunchy and packed with omega-3 fatty acids, protein and fiber to fill you up.
8. Read your labels
Did you know your daily low-fat fruit yogurt is actually (and ironically) super high in sugar content? What about that breakfast cereal you’re eating two servings of every morning? Choose your food carefully, read and compare labels to identify the sugar content. As a benchmark, anything above 15g of sugar per 100g is high.
9. Reach for some sparkling water instead of a soft drink
Lots of people think they’re making a great decision by opting for a diet soft drink instead of the regular ones. But actually, they’re still not that great for you. We suggest slowly weaning yourself off the need for sodas by having some carbonated water with a spritz of lime or lemon. You still get your bubbles, without the sugar. Side note: Iced lemon teas, and other fruit teas are just as bad (unless you make them yourself). F&N Seasons Iced Lemon Tea contains 11.6g of sugar for every 100ml, so in just ONE 500ml bottle you’re already way past the suggested daily sugar limit.
10. Skip the kuih-muih stall for the fruit stall
Our parents used to buy us mid-afternoon snacks from the kuih-muih auntie down the road. We would feast on the 3-for-RM1 snacks like kuih talam, pulut manis, ondeh-ondeh, and all the other colourful treats. It seemed like a pretty harmless afternoon ritual but these kuihs are delicious thanks to their high sugar content (eg: a piece ondeh-ondeh packs two teaspoons of sugar) You don’t have to completely eliminate kuih-muih from your diet, but we suggest visiting the fruit stall more often for your sweet fix instead, and make the kuih-muih a real treat.
How do you usually stay away from overdosing on sugar? Share some of your tricks with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page!