In today’s lifestyle, many people turned to packaged food for convenient and cheap food choices. But little do they realised that packaged food is where you can find hidden sugar, even in the savoury food! Whilst it is true that sugar isn’t the primary cause of diabetes, having excessive amount leads to weight gain and eventually obesity. And it is a well-known fact that obesity increases the risk of diabetes. While diabetes is a multifactorial disease, type 2 diabetes can be prevented by leading a healthy lifestyle.
War on diabetes
In 2016, the Singapore prime minister declared war against diabetes. Till today, there are 400 000 Singaporeans living with diabetes. 1 in 3 Singaporeans has a lifetime risk of developing diabetes and by 2050 there would be a million diabetic if this trend continues! Diabetes is a huge and growing burden for us and it has to be stopped. Singapore spent 1.6 billion dollars last year on diabetes treatment alone. Many initiatives and programmes such as Healthier Dining Programme, Healthier Ingredient Development Scheme and the Healthier Choice Symbol identifier have been launched to help prevent more diagnosis of diabetes. Whilst these programs are effective on the community level, it is also important that we do our part to keep ourselves far from diabetes. One way is to ensure that we are able to spot the hidden sugar in our daily products.
Why add sugar?
Simply put, sugar is cheap, abundant and it adds flavour to foods. Apart from the flavour, sugar also plays other roles in food such as balancing the acidity and adding bulk to prevent spoilage. Hence there is no reason why food manufacturers shouldn’t add sugar. While there is a growing public awareness of the negative health effects of sugar, government policies and greater availability of non-nutritive sweeteners, these disincentives aren’t strong enough to put the excessive addition of sugar to rest. Instead, it drives manufacturers to use other methods to “hide” the sugars.
Ways manufacturers hide sugar
There are a few ways that food manufacturers use to “hide” their sugar content.
- Calling sugar by a different name
Sugar has many different names such as sucrose, glucose and fructose. Some names don’t even sound similar to sugar such as barley malt, cane juice crystals and molasses. They also come in a syrup form such as honey, high fructose corn syrup and agave nectar. The bottom line is, if you see any ingredients that you don’t recognise, please do google them first. This will help you to learn new names they use to replace the name ‘sugar’.
- Adding sugar to the food you least expected to
Like I mentioned above, sometimes food manufacturers add sugar to foods that we least expected to be high in sugar such as yoghurt, spaghetti sauce and breakfast cereal. Therefore it is important to check both the ingredient list and nutritional label on the packaging. Ensure that sugar (or its other names) is not listed in the top 3 of the ingredient list and that the product only has less or equal to 5g of sugar per serving.
- Using “healthy sugar”
Some manufacturer would make their product to appear healthy by using “healthy sugar” which comes from sap, fruits, flowers, seeds or bees (honey). The products would be labelled as “contains no refined sugar” or “refined sugar-free”. Although they are unrefined sugar, they are still of low nutritional value and hence they are not any better than refined sugar.
- Combining added sugar with the natural sugar
Some foods, such as milk, yoghurt and fruits, contain naturally occurring sugar. Unlike added sugar, naturally occurring sugar doesn’t pose as a health concern. However, some manufacturers combine the natural sugar with added sugar. And since it is not a regulation to state the amount of natural and added sugar separately, we may never know what the percentage of the food is made up of added sugar.
- Adding health claims
You might have seen a lot of health claims such as ‘low-fat’, ‘diet’ or ‘light’. Whilst this claims are good to highlight the best qualities of the products, it doesn’t necessarily mean its healthy. Low-fat items typically have a lot of sugar added to it and diet products often have artificial sweeteners. While light or lite products are often still high in sugar though it is slightly lesser than the regular ones.
Alternatives foods & beverages with less than 5g sugar
- Fresh foods
- Cereals such as Cheerios, All Bran, Weetbix and Kellogg’s Special K Orginal
- No sugar added bottled drinks
- Fruit tea bags
- Homemade energy bars
Homemade foods are great as it helps you to control the amount of sugar you add. Do try out Amara’s energy bar recipe here.