Sugar 101 | 5 Hidden Sugars You MIGHT be eating more than you know!

Sugar 101
5 Hidden Sugars You MIGHT be eating more than you know!
By Wei Wen, Registered Dietitian (RD)

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  • “Hidden sugar” is used by food manufacturers, chefs and others to intensify the flavour and texture of foods.
  • This is why certain “healthy” foods, are loaded with sugars and might not be so healthy after all 

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How many grams of sugar you are eating per day?

Generally, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day (5 teaspoons for females) for maximum health benefits. 

Here’s what 5 teaspoons of sugar is equivalent to: 

  • ¾ glass of Teh Tarik/Milo Ice/Kopi Ice/Cham Bing (Teh+Coffee Ice)
  • ¾ glass of Sirup Bandung
  • 3-4 pieces of cookies
  • 1 piece of donut (or less!)

That’s correct! If you are the regular joe who needs his daily coffee fix from mamak or local kopitiam, chances are you exceeded what’s recommended every day as we have not even gone into considering the hidden sugar you might be eating without knowing!

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What are “hidden sugars” 

“Hidden sugar” is used by food manufacturers, chefs and others to intensify the flavour and texture of foods. 

 

Why should I be concerned?

We all know that bubble milk tea on Insta and donuts on the bakery shelf are loaded with sugar, with a bit of self-awareness, it is very unlikely that we consume those on daily basis

Hidden sugar is dangerous simply because how unaware consumers (like you and me! Oh wait, maybe not me) can be, and hence we might be eating these foods on a daily basis, resulting in disastrous outcome. 

Wait… but it actually says sugar-free on the label and I see no sugar named in the ingredient facts!

Well the truth is consumers are usually outsmarted by tricky marketing skills, the names of these hidden sugars are usually disguised in terms unfamiliar to layman, and the foods that consist of these are labelled as “healthy” to trick consumers.

This brings us to the topic today, unveiling these disguised villains!

 

5 hidden sugar family (more details below)

  1. Cane sugars (Cane juice, evaporated cane juice) 
  1. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
  1. Fruits Concentrate (eg. Strawberry juice concentrate)
  1. Maltodextrin (maltose/isomaltulose/dextrose/sucrose/fructose)
  1. Syrups (maple syrup/molasses/barley syrup/agave nectars)

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Trust me, I’ve been there.

These were my routine healthy meals back in the days 

Breakfast – Fat-free Yoghurt Drink (for probiotics and good gut health)

  • Apple Blueberry Granola/Muesli 

Lunch – Whole Wheat Egg Sandwich 

  • Vitamin C Water

Snack – A glass of no added sugar orange juice 

Dinner – A bowl of Caesar salad topped with fat-free Dijon mustard dressing

 

Doesn’t it sound healthy? Nothing crazy like donuts or cookies. On the contrary, this diet is actually a given scenario when a person tries to diet down with effort.

But if you follow this meal plan, you are actually consuming up to 80-90 grams of sugar in a day, TRIPLING the amount limited by WHO!

Now you must understand food manufacturers will NOT be wiling to compromise on taste as they understand from research statistics that food taste/texture are primary factor for humans to consume foods. Hence healthy, fat-free foods/drinks will almost always be compensated on the sweet buds part.

 

WHAT? I didn’t even drink teh tarik or eat any desserts! How is it possible?

Sadly, the truth is that it IS possible. 

 

“Healthy” Diet Breakdown 

  • Yoghurt Drink = 20+ grams sugar 
  • No added sugar orange juices = 30 grams sugar 
  • Granola/Muesli = 10 grams 
  • Mustard dressing = 10 grams+ sugar
  • Vitamin water = 20 grams sugar

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Okay… I eat 70 grams sugar per day, what’s the big deal?

70 grams of sugar is only 280 calories right…? Not even a plate of fried rice, what’s the fuss? 

  1. The little additional calories are responsible for your big belly

The fact is, we don’t gain kgs over days or experience massive changes within a short timeframe. The 1-2 kgs add up over a few months, and over a few years, our friends greet us with a shocked face upon looking at our belly. 

And guess what? The small, unnoticeable changes over time are the creepy, sneaky little calories day by day from things like hidden sugar in your healthy yoghurt drink. 

  1. Liver’s burden

Added sugar usually comes in the form of fructose, and fructose in large amounts (yes, it’s a large amount even if you just drink a serving of 250 mL chocolate milk) cannot be fully processed by liver because how sedentary our lifestyles are today.

When the liver fails to process it, it accumulates and centralises in our body, causing greater harm (think of diabetes, high cholesterol) technically speaking.

To put it simply, added sugar is something like drinking beer and alcohol. 

  1. Addiction

Now, it’s not to say that a cup of chocolate milk is enough to cause so much of a burden that you will get diabetes instantly. What matters in nutrition is always how consistent you practise a certain eating pattern, sugar makes things worse due to its addictive nature. Worse yet, people nowadays tend to use desserts/sweetened foods as emotional comfort in response to stress, this further complicates matters as this certain sweet food is associated with resurgence of emotional positivity/happiness

When a food is associated to emotions as such, it becomes addictive and harder to remove for a person, resulting in eventual harm in the long run. 

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So… how can I avoid hidden sugar? 

Read labels and nutritional information chart.

 

A. Look for the amount of sugars in grams.

 

Look in the ingredient facts

b) Look for the hidden names 

Hidden sugar is also known as/found in: 

Sugar Names 

Commonly found in

Cane Juice, Evaporated Cane Juice 

Any form of sweet drinks

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) 

Fruit juices

Strawberry juice concentrate (any fruits name)

Flavoured yoghurt/milk

Maltodextrin, Dextrose, Maltose, Isomaltulose, malt extract

Salad dressings (fat-free)

Molasses, Maple syrup, nectars, barley syrup 

Cereals and grains (muesli/granolas)

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Practical Strategies 

 

  • Shop the periphery of supermarkets, go for the fresh produce like fishes, chickens, eggs, vegetables and whole foods! 
  • Be very careful on healthy foods label such as fat-free, no added sugar, or green packaged foods that have a sense of healthiness to it (the healthiest one doesn’t come in a package!)
  • Stop convincing yourself that fruit juices (or anything alike) are healthy because they are natural! (Drugs like cocaine are also natural)
  • Attend to your cravings by healthier alternatives, slowly change for better, for example, change to a unflavoured milk instead of chocolate milk; eat fresh mangoes instead of dried mangoes; buy original oats and put in blueberries yourself instead of getting a pre-prepped granola
  • ENDURE! Certain research has shown that sugar is as addictive as drugs, making it uncomfortable during the initial stage of eliminating sugar from your diet. So, understand that it is normal to feel challenged and tempted, and hold on because the end result will be worth it.

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At this point, you may feel as if sugar is everywhere and it seems impossible to not eat it without being so restrictive that life is not meaningful.

But bear in mind that moderation and limiting it are key. 

We all have that once in a month weekend occasion when we need to wind off with some good cheesecakes with our loved ones, go for it! 

What matters is that we don’t let it be a part of our lives daily. 

But the best thing is that if you practise a good habit of keeping sugar to a minimal level daily, you might live a healthier life to be able to enjoy it on special occasions with your loved ones, and that, my friend, is a meaningful life.

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Disclaimer: The statements above are not intended to diagnose, cure, or treat any existing medical conditions, any actions or dietary changes taken should be done in accordance with your physician's advice.