The Bitter Truth of Sugar

While we tend to think that added sugar only exists in typically sweet foods like candy, ice cream, and cakes, we do not realise that they also exist (or are “hidden”) in many savory foods such as ketchup, pasta sauce, and peanut butter or even food labelled as “natural” and “healthy” like yoghurt and energy bars. In fact, 74% of the packaged foods sold in supermarkets contain added sugar. Therefore, even though you skip all those sweet foods, you may still be consuming added sugar unknowingly.

Here’s a simple rule when you deal with sugar: Sugars that naturally occur in fruits, vegetables, and dairy are OKAY, but we need to pay more attention to added sugars (sugars that are removed from their original source and added to foods). To make matters worse, added sugar comes in many different forms and names that many are not familiar with. There are over 60 different names for sugar listed on food labels, which include common names such as sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, as well as other unfamiliar names such as dextrose, barley malt, maltodextrin, and malt syrup.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), consumption of excessive free sugars (which refer to added sugar and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates) may lead to increased risk of obesity and various non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as type II diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. While we can’t avoid the added sugar present in those processed foods, we have a choice of healthier alternatives to sucrose (commonly known as table sugar) and control the amount of sugar that we are adding into our food. One of the healthy alternatives to sugar is fructose. It is also known as fruit sugar because it is naturally present in fruits and honey. Fructose contains lower GI (GI=19-23) compared to sucrose (GI=65) thereby making it ideal for blood sugar control. It is also sweeter, encouraging lesser usage, thus also reducing calorie consumption.

How much sugar can I consume in one day?

World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting your daily intake of free sugars to just 10% of your total energy intake, or roughly 50 grams (10 teaspoons) and a further reduction to 5% is highly-recommended for additional health benefits.

Sugar is hiding everywhere and in fact, it is even easier to list down the foods that do not contain added sugar such as fruits, vegetables, and raw nuts. Simply choosing water over soda, juices and sports drinks is a great way to avoid these hidden added sugars. Also, try your best to check on food labels to keep your sugar intake level at a healthy range!


TED-Ed (2014). Sugar: Hiding in plain sight. [video] Available at: [Accessed 21 Jan. 2018]. (2018). Hidden in Plain Sight. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Jan. 2018].

WHO (2015). WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children. Geneva.

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