[Parent Connection] Fighting the Sweet Tooth

February 9, 2022

Fighting the sweet tooth

Facts about sugars

  • Sugar is a type of simple carbohydrate and provide 4 kcal per gram
  • Some types of sugar are found naturally in foods (e.g. fructose in fruits and lactose in milk), while others are added to foods (i.e. added sugars)
  • Added sugar are artificially introduced to food products such as candies, cakes, pastries, fruit / sport / carbonated drinks, and even condiments
  • Consuming too much sugar may result in excessive energy intake and hence increase the risk of overweight and obesity 

Myths about sugars

  • “Brown sugar, rock sugar and honey are healthier than white sugar.”
    1. Most types of sugars are nutritionally very similar in that they all provide 4 kcal of energy and barely any other nutrients.
    2. Whether it is brown sugar, rock sugar, honey, or any other sugar, moderate consumption is recommended.
  • “I can meet my daily recommended servings of fruits by consuming drinks with the word ‘fruit’.”
    1. Some drinks are named with the word “fruit” and taste “fruity” only because they contain fruit flavoring and added sugars e.g. high fructose corn syrup. They do not contribute to our daily intake of fruits at all.
    2. 100% fruit juice without added sugar (~¾ cup) can be counted as one serving of fruit. However, any amount beyond ¾ cup would still be counted towards the same one serving since juice contains less nutrients, especially dietary fiber, and much higher sugar content when compared to whole fruits.
  • “If something does not taste sweet, I do not have to worry about its sugar content.”
    1. From a culinary aspect, sweetness counteracts other flavors (e.g. sourness and saltiness) to help create a more balanced sensory profile
    2. From a food science aspect, sugar binds with the water in food, limit the opportunity for microbial growth and improves shelf life

It is very common for food manufacturers to add sugar to products that do not even taste sweet, typically pasta sauces, salad dressings and condiments. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains ~4 g of sugar, equivalent to one cube of white sugar.

Deciphering food labels

Nutritional facts on what you are eating.

Sugars do not always spell “sugar” on the food labels. Listed below are some common forms of sugar used as food ingredients:

Agave nectarBrown sugarCane crystals
Cane sugarCorn sweetenerCorn syrup
Crystalline fructoseDextroseEvaporated cane juice
FructoseFruit juice concentratesGlucose
High-fructose corn syrupHoneyInvert sugar
MaltoseMalt syrupMolasses
Raw sugarSucroseSyrup

Besides screening the ingredient list, consumers may also pay attention to these claims shown on food product labels, which are governed by the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations (Cap. 132 W):

Description of claimConditions
“Low sugar”Solid food containing no more than 5 g of sugars per 100 g of food; or   Liquid food containing no more than 5 g of sugar per 100 mL of food.  
“No sugar”Solid food containing no more than 0.5 g of sugars per 100 g of food; or   Liquid food containing no more than 0.5 g of sugars per 100 mL of food.  

(Source: https://www.cfs.gov.hk/tc_chi/programme/programme_rdss/programme_Salt_Sugar_Label_Scheme.html)

Tips on reducing sugar intake

  • No more sweet drinks. Switching to sugar-free options does not only cut down your sugar intake drastically, it may also help calibrate your palate and gradually reduce your craving for strong sweet taste overtime.
  • Treat with no sweets. Rewarding yourself or your child with desserts may lead to an association of sugary foods with certain moods and encourage an undesirable habit in long terms. Next time you are stressed (or relieved after great stress), try alternative rewards e.g. watching a movie, going for a massage, or exploring a new trail with your friends!
  • Hide them! Put your candies at the top shelf corner of your pantry to make them visually and physically less accessible. You would be surprised how lazy our body and mind can be!
  • Snack on fruits! Replace your afternoon chocolate truffles with some delicious freeze-dried berries to satisfy your sweet tooth and meet your daily fruit intake in one go!

References: School of Public Health, Harvard University; Centre for Food Safety