Reduction of Dietary Sodium and Sugar


Occurrence of sugar in foods

Sugar and health

To know the sugars content in a certain food, look at its nutrition label, or search a similar food item from food composition databases, such as the Nutrient Information Inquiry System.


Myth 1: Sugar is a type of carbohydrates. Sugar is bad for health. So carbohydrates are bad for health too.
Fact 1:

Depending on the chemical structures and how quickly they are digested and absorbed, carbohydrates can be divided into simple carbohydrates (with one to two sugar molecules; also called sugar) and complex carbohydrates (with three or more linked sugar molecules).

Simple carbohydrates (include glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose and other types pf sugar) are fast energy sources because the body can quickly break them down. Complex carbohydrates (i.e. dietary fibre and starch) take longer to be digested than simple carbohydrates. All carbohydrates provide the same amount of energy, i.e. 1 gram of carbohydrate provides 4 kilocalories.

In the Food Pyramid, sugar (a type of simple carbohydrates) is on the top at the "Eat the Least" level, whereas foods rich in complex carbohydrates (from grains, such as bread, cereal, rice, and pasta) are at the base at the "Eat the Most" level.

Carbohydrates (including sugar) per se will not necessarily cause weight gain. Getting more calories (whether they are from fat, protein or carbohydrates including sugar) than one can burn is the reason for weight gain.

Myth 2: Brown sugar, honey, and syrup are healthier than white sugar.
Fact 2:

From nutrition aspects, these types of sugar are all very similar, i.e. 1 gram provides about 4 kilocalories of energy with very few other nutrients.

Our body metabolises processed sugar (e.g. white sugar), syrups and naturally occurring sugar in food (e.g. honey) equally. Excess intake of sugar in any form will provide extra energy, so regardless they are brown sugar, honey, syrup or white sugar, use them in moderation.

Myth 3: Refrain from sugar in food totally is the only way to reduce sugar intake.
Fact 3:

It is impossible to refrain from all types of sugar in foods nor wise to cut out sugary foods and drinks to reduce sugar intake.

We can continue to enjoy foods with natural sugar such as fruits and milk. However, we should eat foods with sugar added in, such as carbonated drinks, juice drinks, sweets, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, etc., less frequently. Depriving oneself from a particular food may end up eating more. Treat yourself occasionally with a small portion of dessert to satisfy the sweet tooth, but do not indulge.

Myth 4: Drinks with the word "fruit" are healthier options than carbonated drinks.
Fact 4:

A drink with the word "fruit" does not mean it has fruits inside or is a healthier option than carbonated drinks. Check out the ingredient list and you may find the only "fruit" in a fruit drink is the fruit flavour. The other ingredients are just water, sugar, honey, syrup, or other forms of added sugar.

Some fruit drinks are very high in sugar as well. Check out the nutrition label and you may find the sugars content in some fruit drinks similar to that in some carbonated drinks, i.e. about 10 grams sugars in each 100 millitres. If dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals from fruits are your concern, choose whole fruits rather than fruit juices.

Myth 5: Drinks with "no sugars" or "low sugars" can be taken as much and as often as I like.
Fact 5:

Nutrition claims should be used as a quick reference only. At any time, consumers should not only focus on the claimed nutrients but also refer to the information provided on the nutrition label and ingredient list for making healthier food choices. Even drinks and food products with "no sugars" or "low sugars" claims may contain high content of energy, fat or sodium.

Other statements such as "less sweet" and "no sugars added" provided on labels may not truly reflect the nutrient content of the product. Again, refer to the nutrition label for detailed information on the overall nutritional property of the food product.