There’s a lot more sugar in your daily diet than you probably realise. Aside from the obvious sugary foods and drinks like sweets and soft drinks, you may not realise that it’s also hiding in your ‘healthier’ choices of yoghurt, granola bars, cereals, and more.
Did you know that sugar addiction is real and it’s 8x times more addictive than cocaine? That’s the reason why it always feels so hard to quit sugar out of sheer willpower.
How does one get addicted to sugar? Well, sugar floods the brain with feel-good hormones like dopamine, which is also what gives you a ‘sugar-high’ after eating a lot of sugary stuff. Dopamine interferes with normal brain functions and causes the body to rely heavily on sugar for the dopamine rush.
What is sugar?
Sugar is a carbohydrate that provides your body with the energy it needs for the day, along with fat and protein. They are broken down and carried to your liver to be converted into glucose, which fuels your brain, muscles, and organs.
Here are some of the most common sugars:
- Glucose — the main form of fuel for the body that is readily absorbed into the bloodstream and causes a spike in blood sugar.
- Fructose — often found in honey, fruits, and vegetables. It is also widely used for intravenous feeding in medicine and surgery.
- Lactose — found in milk and dairy products. People who are lactose-intolerant lack the enzyme lactase to break it down.
- Sucrose — common refined table sugar, or granulated sugar. It is often made into sweets or added to food and drinks as a sweetener.
How much is too much?
Malaysia has a complicated relationship with sugar. As of 2019, UNICEF identified Malaysia as the fattest nation in Asia with the second-highest child obesity rate amongst children aged 5-19 years in ASEAN. Also, 7.1% of these children are under 5 and overweight. As parents, we drastically need to do something to improve the health of our future generation.
Did you know that a can of soft drink may contain 30-35g of sugar? That’s equivalent to roughly 140 calories. To burn off 140 calories, you need to jog for 20 minutes, do aerobic exercises for 30 minutes, cycle for 40 minutes, or do household chores for 60 minutes. Otherwise, your body is going to convert all these excess sugars into 20g of fat to be stored in your body.
Now, you might not think that 20g of fat is much to worry about. However, assuming you drink just 1 can of soft drinks every day for 365 days, that’s an extra weight of 7.2kg by the end of the year!
Makes you think twice again about all that sugar, doesn’t it?
The negative effects of sugar
As illustrated previously, eating excess sugar on a daily basis leads to weight gain and obesity. It gets more complicated if your regular diet consists of foods high in fat and calorific values, and lead a physically inactive lifestyle. It may even lead to high blood pressure, fatty liver, and other heart-related diseases.
Excessive added sugar is closely associated with type-2 diabetes, but it’s not the direct cause. Type-2 diabetes occurs when your body stops producing enough insulin hormone to regulate your blood sugar level. Studies have shown that people who regularly drink sugary drinks have a 25% high risk of type-2 diabetes.
3. Low concentration, hyperactivity, and memory problems
Sugar causes a spike in adrenaline in children that leads to anxiety, hyperactivity, and low concentration. A study by Dr Parris Kidd published in the Journal of Alternative Medicine Review suggested that a diet high in sugar for kids aggravates ADHD symptoms such as hyperactivity, aggression, and destructive behaviour. Besides, sugar also slows the brain down by interfering with memory and regular brain functions.
While sugar isn’t directly responsible for cavities, the digestion of sugar does encourage bacteria in the mouth to grow and multiply, leading to cavities, gum disease, or even tooth loss. That’s why it’s important to teach kids to brush their teeth properly from young.
5. Low immune system
Kids who consume a lot of sugar tend to fall sick more easily, as sugar is likely to suppress the white blood cells responsible for attacking bacteria and keeping them healthy. Over time, it may weaken their immune response and make them more susceptible to illnesses.
6. Gastrointestinal tract problems
Added sugars are bad for gastrointestinal tract health because it decreases the number of good bacteria in your gut and causes indigestion, constipation, stomach ache, or acid reflux. Also, highly-processed sugars like white sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are suspected to cause increased inflammation in the body.
According to Sonja Kiertein, Ph.D., of the Nestle Research Center in Switzerland, she found that sugary diets may be linked to asthma in kids. It causes an allergic inflammation which narrows the airways and increases mucus production and results in symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath.
8. Eczema and skin problems
Want clear skin for your children? Then don’t feed them refined sugar. We’ve established that sugar causes inflammatory responses in our body, and the same goes for our skin. In fact, besides causing eczema flare-ups, it also aggravates other skin problems like acne, rosacea, and psoriasis.
9. Poor eyesight
Too much sugar can also make your eyesight blurry because it inflames the eye lenses, causing it to swell so your eyes can’t focus. People with high blood sugar problems are prone to poor eyesight and eye diseases.
How to cut down on sugar
1. Reduce sugary snacks between meals
Often find your kids reaching for a cookie, cake slice, or chocolate bar right after a meal? First of all, don’t encourage the behaviour by having a whole stash of sweets at home. If you leave out cookies and cakes in view, it’s hard for kids to resist from asking you for snacks whenever. Secondly, make sure your kid gets balanced nutrition from his or her daily meals. They are less likely to want sugary snacks if they are full and satisfied from their proper meals.
2. Check labels before purchasing
Always read the nutritional label before purchasing foods and beverages, especially if they’re marketed towards kids. If sugar is within the first few ingredients listed, it’s best you skip it altogether. Look out for alternate sneaky sugar names such as glucose, fructose, dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, molasses, sucrose, and more.
Also, keep in mind ‘low-sugar’ does not always mean it’s a healthier choice. It may still contain a lot more sugar than you want to put in your body.
3. Cut down on the boba craze
With all the craze surrounding boba milk tea and brown sugar drinks lately, many kids and young adults are jumping on the bandwagon of these crafted sugary drinks. But beware, your order of brown sugar milk with extra boba and aloe vera is hiding a ton of added sugars. According to TheStar, an average order of boba milk tea can contain up to 20 teaspoons of sugar! That’s the equivalent of the sugar in 2 and a half cans of Coca-Cola!
Next time, just bring your own water to the party. It’s sugar-free, fat-free, and carb-free too!
4. Eat more fruits and vegetables
Even if fructose gets a bad rep for being the worst for your health, you still need to make sure that you get enough fruits and vegetables into your body. That’s because the fruits and vegetables rich in fructose are also packed with nutrients and fibre that are essential for health. Besides, if you realise your kid refuses to give up on snacks, offer a healthier alternative that’s equally as delicious to curb their sweet tooth like strawberries, grapes, or kiwis.
5. Go sugar-free
There has been an increasing awareness about the amount of sugar in our food amongst consumers in the last decade. With that, lots of food and beverage manufacturers are providing low-sugar or sugar-free options for some of their most popular brands, which is definitely a step in the right direction. Nonetheless, you still need to be on the lookout for sneaky companies renaming their sugars or replacing their sugars with artificial sweeteners that could be more dangerous to health.
On the other hand, when we say our Cold-Pressed Ginger extract is sugar-free, we mean that it is 100% sugar-free. There are NO added artificial sweeteners or sneaky name replacements whatsoever — only the raw, pure goodness of cold-pressed Bentong ginger extract. If you do prefer it with some sweetness, the other flavours in our Cold-Pressed Ginger series are also low-sugar and suitable for all ages.
6. Lead by example
Want your kids to stay away from refined sugars? Lead by example and be their role model. Don’t let your kids catch you binging on cakes and doughnuts in the middle of the night after just telling them ‘no’. Children pick up on their parents’ actions more than their words, so the phrase ‘do as I say, not as I do’ doesn’t necessarily work on them. Implement a healthy lifestyle by reducing added sugars in your diet, drink plenty of water, and exercise on a regular basis to help your kid curb their sugar addiction.
Visit the Malaysian Government Health Portal for more facts and data about sugar and its consumption in Malaysia.