Harmful effects of sugar

National 4 minutes, 5 seconds


FROM soft drinks, teh tarik to chocolate, kicap and chilli sauce, keropok and kuih — sugar lurks everywhere and people in Brunei Darussalam are just eating too much of it. Sugar is sugar — whether it's white, brown, unrefined sugar, molasses or honey, don’t kid yourself: there is no such thing as healthy sugar. This is according to an article on the harmful effects of sugar that was released by the Ministry of Health.

Most excess sugar in our diet come from sugars added to food or drinks, or found naturally in honey, syrups and fruit juices. Many foods and drinks that contain added sugars can be high in energy (calories) and often have few other nutrients.

Adults are advised not to eat more than 30g of added sugar a day, which is roughly seven sugar cubes.

For reference, generally, a can of fizzy drink contains the equivalent of nine sugar cubes.

Children should have less than this. In reality however, in Brunei Darussalam, on average we consume more than twice this amount (more than 60g) every day. The biggest culprit comes from sugar sweetened beverages — this includes fizzy drinks, instant three-in-one hot drinks, malt/chocolate drinks and fruit juices — which make up 40g of our sugar intake.

Worryingly, one-quarter of Bruneians (and a shocking 40 per cent of children aged five to nine) consume soft drinks daily, and one-quarter also consume instant hot drinks every day.

Most people know that sugar is not good for them, but for some reason, they think the risk of excess sugar consumption is less than that of having too much fat or salt. Worse, many retailers now market so called ‘healthy products’ with spurious nutritional claims that they are somehow ‘healthier’ because they use raw sugar, or honey, agave syrups, etc. The effects of these sugars on our bodies are the same. While it may give us instant pleasure, in the long term, consuming too much sugar, is a silent killer.

Sugar makes us obese and specifically promotes belly fat

Sugar contains calories but no real nutritional value, so it makes sense that eating too much sugar floods your body with too many calories. Being overweight can increase your risk of heart conditions and diabetes.

Excess sugar intake actually causes abdominal fat cells to mature — setting the stage for a big belly. Fat accumulation in the abdomen increases even more the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Sugar saps our brain power

Excessive sugar consumption can exacerbate depression and anxiety by causing energy spikes followed by crashes. Sugar has even been linked to dementia and memory loss.

Sugar damages our heart

While it’s been widely noted that excess sugar can increase the overall risk for heart disease, sugar can also directly affect the pumping mechanism of your heart and increase the risk for heart failure.

Approximately half the people that are diagnosed with heart failure die within five years.

Sugar destroys the liver

The liver plays a role by processing excess sugar and converting it into fat. Some of these are sent around the body as cholesterol leading to weight gain and high cholesterol, while some fat is stored in the liver. Fat storage can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, an inflammation of the liver (also known as hepatitis) that can lead to liver failure, and cancer.

Sugar causes tooth decay

Sugary foods and drink also cause tooth decay, especially if you eat them between meals. The longer the sugary food is in contact with teeth, the more damage it can cause.

Tooth decay is caused by bacteria in the mouth using sugar from foods and drinks to produce acids that dissolve and damage the teeth.

Tips to cut down on sugar

• Instead of sugary fizzy drinks, sugarysquash, and sweetened ice teas, go for water, lower-fat milks, or no-sugar added diet drinks. Remember that even unsweetened fruit juice is sugary. Substitute fruit juice with eating actual fruit.

• Avoid three-in-one instant hot drinks. These can be as bad for you as drinking a can of fizzy drink. If you take sugar in hot drinks gradually reduce the amount until you can cut it out altogether.

• Rather than spreading jam on your bread try a lower-fat spread or some sliced banana for that sweet fix instead.

• Check nutrition labels to help you pick the foods with less added sugar, or go for the lower-sugar version.

• Try halving the sugar you use in your recipes – it works for most things even traditional kuih-muih!

• Limit your intake of cakes, confectionary, chocolate and kuih to no more than the occasional treat once a week. Replace them with fruits and no-sugar added jelly instead.

• Choose wholegrain breakfast cereals, but not those coated with sugar.

• When eating out, always tell the wait staff when you order, “kurang manis” (‘less sugar’). Not only will your food be healthier — it will probably taste better too!

The Brunei Times