All About Sugar

1.  What is Sugar?
2.  How does Sugar affect us?  
3.  Dietary recommendation 
4.  What are the different types of Sugar? 
5.  Understanding Sugar content in food labels
6.  Tips of reducing Sugar intake  

 1.  What is Sugar?  

Sugar is a sweet crystalline substance obtained from various plants, particularly cane sugar and sugar beet.  It consists mainly of sucrose and is used to make food and drinks sweet.

Sugar can be divided into two groups: 

  • Naturally occurring sugar, such as those naturally present in plain milk, fruit and some vegetables.
  • Added sugar, such as those added to cakes, biscuits and sugary milk.

2.  How does Sugar affect us? 

Sugar provides “empty calories”, which means calories with no nutritional value. One teaspoon of sugar contains about 20 calories, but does not give us any other nutrients.

Taking in more calories than what you need in a day will lead to weight gain and hence you may become overweight. Being overweight may lead to higher chances of you having diabetes, heart diseases, stroke and high blood pressure.

Taking too much food and drinks high in added sugar can also lead to tooth decay, especially if you do not take proper care of your teeth.

Germs in the mouth use sugar to produce acid that can damage your teeth. Hence, your chances of having a tooth decay is higher if you often eat sugary food. This is especially true for processed sugar, which can be found in cordials or food containing added sugar.  

 3.  Dietary recommendation  

Sugar added to all food and drinks should take up no more than 10% of the energy that you derived from it. This would mean taking 40g–55g (8-11 teaspoons) or less of sugar daily.  A 40g sugar limit is based on 1600kcal/day, whereas a 55g sugar limit is based on 2200kcal/day.   

Age       Sugar Limit (grams)  Sugar Limit (teaspoons) 
Less than 1 year   Not more than 25    5 
1 - 2 years   Not more than 35    7 
3- 6 years   Not more than 45    9 
7 - 18 years        Not more than 55   11 
18 years and above   Not more than 55   11 

 1 level teaspoon = 5g of sugar = 20 carlories  

The World Health Organization (WHO) further advised that “a reduction to below 5% of total energy intake per day would have additional benefits.”  

For adults with normal body mass index (BMI) who wish to cut down the amount of sugar to just 5% of the total energy intake, they should have less than 6 teaspoons of sugar daily. This limit includes sugar added to food and drinks, as well as the sugar in honey, syrups and cakes.

4.  What are the different types of Sugar? 

The following ingredients that you see listed on food labels are actually sugars or contain sugar:     

  • High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)         
  • Refined sugar 
  • Brown sugar 
  • Corn syrup 
  • Dextrose 
  • Fructose 
  • Honey  
  • Malt syrup 
  • Maltose
  • Maple syrup
  • Nectars (eg. peach nectar, pear nectar)
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose

5.  Understanding Sugar content in food labels 

Examples of the sugar content of the different types of "convenience foods"

Sugar A pack of no sugar added apple juice
Reading the label:

No Sugar Added Apple Juice

Each serving contains 26g of sugars which is half of the daily amount of sugars you are allowed to take.

 Cocoa malt drink 200ml
Reading the label:

Cocoa Malt Drink
Each serving contains 16g of sugar which is more than one third of the amount you should take daily.

Convenience drinks such as "no sugar added" apple juice are high in sugar content and you should not drink too many packets of them

Reading food labels also help us to compare between two similar food items.  When comparing we will look at the "per 100g" column as the serving sizes for the two food items are different and therefore cannot be compared directly.

  Sugar A pack of no sugar added apple juice

Reading the label:

In this packet of "no sugar added" apple juice, apple juice concentrate also contains sugar.
For every 100ml of "no sugar added" apple juice, you are taking in 10.4g of sugars.
Alternatively, we may consider substitute this with a can of jasmine green tea, in which the sugar intake is lower

 Sugar A can of jasmine green tea drink

Reading the label:

For every 100ml of jasmine green tea we drink, we are taking in 5.5g of sugars.

Choose drinks with the Healthier Choice Logo "Lower In Sugar".


 6.  Tips of reducing Sugar intake   

  • Drinking plain water is the best! 
  • Choose packet drinks with "Lower in Sugar, Healthier Choice" symbol. 
  • Limit the amount of sugar added to food and drinks. 
  • Read food labels and compare the sugar content among similar products. 
  • Use spreads like jam, kaya and marmalade in small amounts. 
  • Ask for less sugar (siudai) or no sugar (kosong) when ordering coffee and tea. You may also consider using sugar substitutes to add sweetness to your choice of drink. Sugar substitutes are food additives that provide sweetness with fewer calories. Examples of sugar substitutes are aspartame, xylitol or saccharin. 
  • Choose to eat fruits instead of drinking fruit juice. For a healthier blend of fruit juice, add vegetables. For example, celery, carrot and apple juice is 2/3 vegetable and this contains less sugar than a pure apple juice drink. 
Lower in Sugar 
  • Eat all food in moderation.
  • 1 level teaspoon = 5g of sugar = 20 calories
    Added sugar should make up no more than 10% of energy from food. This means taking 40g-55g (8-11 teaspoons) or less of sugar daily
  • Reduce sugar content of blended juice by replacing some fruits with vegetables.  
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