Cut It Out!

As Part 2 of the Sugar Series, here are some tips to start reducing your daily sugar intake.

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Previously, we looked at the negative effects of consuming too much sugar. You may be wondering: How can I avoid falling into the trap of binge-eating and drinking sugary products? Quitting- or at least lowering- sugar consumption is more difficult than you think, but it’s not impossible. 

What are the common types of sugar?

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Before we start any journey, we have to know what is our “enemy.” Here are the most common types of sugar you can easily find on supermarket shelves:

  • White sugar: This is the most common type of sugar and can be found in products from caster sugar to granulated sugar. They are extracted and refined from the natural sugars that occur in sugar cane and are 99.9% pure sucrose with no minerals- very unhealthy!
  • Brown sugar: Don’t be under the impression that this type of sugar is healthier than white sugar. They contain no distinct nutritional advantage over white sugar. Brown sugar is often used in baking and contains 95% sucrose and 5% molasses.
  • Raw sugar: It may be less processed, but it’s not a healthier option. Raw sugar is the same as refined sugar because they both contain sucrose. There’s no research suggesting that switching from refined sugar to raw sugar may help us eat less sugar. 
  • Rock sugar: Often used in Chinese dishes or desserts, rock sugar is refined, crystallised sugar in small lumps. Although it is believed to have medicinal properties like helping with a sore throat, there is no scientific evidence that rock sugar is healthier from other forms of refined sugar. It is also made from white sugar, which makes its chemical composition identical.

How companies hide the sugar content in their products

It’s no surprise that with the rise of the savvy and health-conscious consumer, brands have come up with ways to hide the fact that their product contains sugar. Not only do they use different labels, sugar can be found in “healthy” products where most people don’t bother to check for it. Here are some foods which contain more added sugar than you may expect:

1. Low-fat yoghurt

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Despite the fact that some of the sugar comes from milk and fruit, some yoghurt brands inject their cartons with sugar, which is where the majority of sweetness comes from.

2. Peanut Butter

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Another breakfast classic. Surprisingly, many commercial brands produce low-quality peanut butter which contain a significant amount of sugar.

3. Bottled Tea

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Cane sugar is the most common sugar added to bottled teas. The added sugars cancel out the benefit teas like green tea or jasmine tea have to offer. Instead, opt for a freshly-brewed cup at home if you can. 

4. Dried Fruit

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These chewy pieces of fruit are closer to candy than their original form. This is because without water, the sugars become more concentrated in the dried variety. Manufacturers also choose to coat the dried-up sweets in more sugar. 

5. Salad Dressing and Condiments

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In order to make up for the loss of flavour provided by fat, companies pack bottles of “fat-free” salad dressing with chemicals, sodium and sugar. It might even contain more sugar than an actual dessert!

6. Whole-grain Bagels

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Brands may add sugar to their bagels to imitate the taste of white bagels with whole grain bagels. It is the same for whole-grain bread. This makes them taste more palatable.  

1. Try Fresh Fruit Instead

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Fruit is a healthier source of sugar compared to products like granola bars and low-fat yoghurt. There’s a difference between natural sugar and added sugar. The reason why the same amount of sugar from an apple and the same amount of sugar from a candy bar affects our bodies differently is because the apple contains fibers and nutrients that help us break the sugar down slowly. On the other hand, a candy bar is “pure sugar” and will definitely lead to a sugar high. 

If you like to snack or if you have a sweet tooth in general, here are some tips to incorporate more fruit into your diet:

  • Sweeten your breakfast oatmeal with fruit instead of sugar. 
  • Instead of drinking soft drinks, try to infuse plain water with fruits and herbs like lemon and mint. Also, avoid drinking packaged fruit juice, which contains more sugar than you think.
  • For lunch and dinner, try to make sure there is a side of fruits (as well as vegetables), such as a fruit salad. 
  • Always keep some fresh fruit on hand. You can bring some to work or school. If you think peeling fruit is inconvenient, there is always some peeled fruit to be found at local food stalls or you can pre-peel fruit at home.
  • If you’re worried about the sugar content in fruit, you can try low-carb, nutrient dense options like strawberries, grapefruit and avocado.

2. Stop Adding Sugar to Your Drinks

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We are used to adding a pack of sugar or artificial sweetener to our tea or coffee and ordering bubble tea with a high sugar level, but we have to stop doing this to make our drinks healthier. While artificial sweeteners can help you reduce added sugars in your diet, they will increase your cravings for artificially flavoured foods with less nutritional value. To increase your intake of more nutritive drinks, you can get your teh or kopi with less sugar and drink more water or calorie-free drinks throughout the day. 

3. Don’t Forget to Read Ingredient Labels

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“No added sugar” only means that no extra sugar was added during the manufacturing process and does not mean that the product contains less sugar. Also, sugar is called by many names- evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetness, high-fructose corn syrup and so on- but a good rule of thumb is that any product that lists sugar near the top of the ingredients list is likely to be high in added sugar content. 

Unsweetened” means that no added sugars, artificial sweeteners, or sugar alcohols have been added to the food. But the unsweetened food (like coconut milk or iced tea) may contain naturally occurring sugars.

Some more hidden sources of sugar to look out for:

  • Agave Nectar 
  • Barley Malt Syrup 
  • Brown Sugar 
  • Brown Rice Syrup 
  • Cane Juice 
  • Cane Sugar 
  • Coconut Sugar 
  • Corn Syrup 
  • Corn Syrup Solids 
  • Evaporated Corn Sweetener 
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup*
  • Honey Invert Sugar 
  • Malt Syrup 
  • Maltodextrin 
  • Maple Syrup 
  • Molasses 
  • Palm Sugar 
  • Raw Sugar 
  • Rice Syrup 
  • Turbinado Sugar

*Fructose is one of the two major components of added sugar (the other is glucose). The liver is the only organ that can metabolise sugar in significant amounts, which is why eating a lot of high-sugar and high-calorie food puts a strain on our liver. Fructose is hidden away in products like fruit juice, ketchup and bread. Steer clear of anything containing fructose. 

4. Avoid Buying Sugary Foods

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Don’t shop at the supermarket or convenience store when you’re hungry! That’s when your sugar cravings are at their peak. If you buy less sugary food and drinks, when you get cravings for something sweet, you won’t be able to find any to snack on at home. You will be able to indirectly eat more fresh produce. 

Also, avoiding sugary food includes times when you are eating out or ordering food online. Try to avoid ordering from restaurants that sell fast food, bubble tea and other low-nutrient meals. Instead, opt to make your food at home where you can control the amount of sugar you add to it and eat at restaurants which sell fresh options with a low sugar content, like salad and vegetarian food.

What are the side effects of quitting sugar?

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It’s going to be tough and painful. There will be times when you just want to give in and eat some chocolate that you’ve been craving all day. Quitting sugar feels unpleasant both mentally and physically. 

Sugar creates a release of endorphins in the brain, which are natural opioids. It’s possible that your body craves these extra opioids when they’re gone, causing withdrawal. Sugar also causes a release of dopamine, which plays a major role in habit formation (this is why we crave sugar at different times of the day). 

Symptoms of sugar withdrawal include:

  • Intense cravings for something sweet
  • Intense cravings for other carbohydrates, like chips or pasta
  • Irritability or tiredness 
  • Depressed mood
  • Increased anxiety

This may culminate in binge-eating sugary foods when you give in to these cravings even during the process of quitting sugar. To read more about how to control our urge to snack and why wanting to satisfy a craving is different from satisfying your hunger, check out “How to Stop Sugar Cravings”.