Sugar in Foods

20 Aug, 2018 | Editorials


Most mass produced food and beverages in Singapore contain sugar; even stuff like canned meat or even your good old chrysanthemum tea! As a chef, I’ve been trained to dissect food components and from experience; have fair idea of just how much sugar goes into your everyday foods. So let’s break it down.  

#1: What is Sugar?

We could go into the science and start talking monosaccharides and polysaccharides but for most people this would be pointless and its far too technical. For me; I tend to divide it into 2 categories: naturally occurring sugars and artificial sugar. Artificial Sugar – Table Sugar, or cane sugar. Anything is that is artificially sweetened with refined granules. This would include powdered icing, sugar in chocolate or even your condensed milk. Naturally occurring Sugar – Or sweetness intrinsically obtained from cooking food, for example, sautéing onions for sweetness. Or fruits, orange juice from squeezing the fruits. The underlying notion that naturally occurring sugars are “better” for you in moderate consumption.  

#2: How much should I be taking?

As according to WHO(1); a person should only consume 22 grams of added sugar daily. To put that in another point of view, that’s 5.5 tsp of artificial sugar a day. And in a real world practice: 100 Plus has 6 grams of artificial sugar per 100 mls (2), a normal packaging size of a regular bottle is 500ml; making each bottle 30 grams of sugar! 1 bottle = more than 1 days intake!  

#3: How can I tell?

Read the label. Most people skip this basic part when buying anything. Mass produced grocery items will have a nutritional guidelines and will list ‘sugar’ as a component.(3) They will have it listed as under per serving or per 100 grams/mls. Read it up and calculate and you’ll definitely know how much! If the product doesn’t have a nutritional panel, it would also come with an accompanying list of ingredients. Artificial sugars would also include common names like (4); cane sugar, glucose, fructose, maltose, corn syrup, dextrose, rice syrup, cane juice, castor, dextrin, golden syrup, HFCS, maltodextrin, maltol, muscovado, refiner’s syrup, saccharose, sucrose. (I know it’s a lot! There’s more though) Most often, the regulations would state the larger ingredient ratio first, so in the case of our 100 plus drink example, the drink is mostly carbonated water, followed by 2 types of sugars, vitamin C and whole bunch of additives (probably to keep the drink from spoiling).  

#4: Why Should I care?

One big reason – health. Diseases like diabetes is on the rise in Singapore. 1 in 10 Singaporeans are diabetic or at least pre-diabetic. Over 400,00 live with this disease (unfortunately, chef here included) in Singapore alone and numbers are rising.(5) Diabetes often set is later in life (often in the 40’s) but that’s no reason to abuse your system before that time comes.(6) Large sugar intake also increases the risk of other diseases and conditions such as obesity, heart disease, teeth health, arthritis and for men, even impotence.(7)  

#5: Conclusion – Then how?

Just stop! It’s as easy as that! No, in reality doesn’t really work that way. However, if you reduce your sugar diet and consume it in moderations, your natural state of health should see an upward drive. On the cooking front, replace sugar elements with naturally occurring ingredients. Sugar replacements: Organic agave syrup, gula Melaka or honey make great low GI sugar substitutes to enhance your cooking or daily drinks! Sugar alternatives: Sweet fruits like rambutans, mango, strawberries (with a little honey) go a long way to enhance your desserts. Other dried fruits like dates, figs and grape (sultanas) make great additional to your sugar free cakes. You could also use nuts like walnut, almonds, macademia which are naturally high in sugars too! Often recipes (especially desserts) come with a stock standard ‘sugar’ requirement. Whilst, for some baking techniques; like creaming or whipping, it might be essential. Most often the sugar requirement is there’s for ‘sweetness’. For me, I often look at it, and reduce where ever possible or replace entirely. As always have a little fun in the kitchen! Stay safe and healthy! – Chef Gary References: (1): (2): (3): (4): (5): (6): (7):