4 Simple Ways to Cut Down on Sugar

Updated: Mar 30

We all know that we should cut back on consuming excessive sugary food and drinks, so as to avoid diet-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity or high blood pressure.

But how bad is the problem, really? How much sugar do we really consume?

WHO recommends that we should limit our daily consumption of added sugar to no more than 5-10% of our daily calorie intake, which is about 25-50g (or 6-12 teaspoons) of sugar for a 2000-calorie diet. If 50g of sugar already sounded strict to you, the American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 24g of added sugar per day, while men should stay under 36g.

Just to put things into perspective: an experiment by students from Temasek Polytechnic found that 500ml (M size) of bubble milk tea with 100% sugar contains a whopping 102.5g of sugar. Even if you get 50% sugar, that already exceeds your daily recommended sugar intake!

Still want to drink bubble tea every day?

Don't worry, it's certainly not too late to make some changes to your diet. Here are 5 simple things you can do to reduce your sugar intake:

There are two types of sugars - added and naturally occurring. To put it simply, added sugar is any sugar that was added to the food during the manufacturing process. This can be found in the obviously sweet things, such as ice cream or pastries, or even things you don't normally associate as sweet, like bread, crackers and sauces. Naturally occurring sugar, on the other hand, is inherently present in the food. It can be found in things like fruit, milk, and some vegetables (eg. corn or sweet potatoes).

While your body processes natural and added sugar the same way, natural sugar is usually being consumed with other essential nutrients. For example, dairy also contains protein and calcium, while fruits also contain fiber and Vitamin C. These nutrients help to prevent your blood sugar from spiking, which is something you would experience after eating a candy bar.

Products with mostly added sugar tend to have a greater concentration of sugar than something like a piece of fruit. This makes it easier for you to consume more sugar without you realising it. For example, it would probably only take you a few candy bars to consume 30-40g of sugar, but it would take some effort to reach that amount if you were eating just fruit.

Fruits are also a great alternative because its fiber-rich quality helps you get full faster. On the other hand, eating something like cookies will only leave you craving for more.

Next time you’re craving something sweet, better to reach for fruit instead; you’ll still enjoy the benefits, but the effects are so much better for your body!

Hidden sugar is everywhere. Low-fat yoghurt, granola bars and fruit juice are just some foods that may sound healthy but are surprisingly high in sugar.

A good habit you can have is to check the nutrition labels of pre-packaged food and drinks. There are at least 56 different names for sugars, such as glucose, high-fructose corn syrup or agave nectar. Watch out for items that list any form of sugar in the first few ingredients.

Something that claims to be reduced in sugar can also still have a lot of sugar content, so it’s always better to let the nutrition label do the talking!

Hidden Sugars, a campaign that aimed to uncover the hidden sugars in packaged food, compared the sugar content between soluble coffee powder with no added sugar vs 25% less sugar instant packet coffee:

Source: Hidden Sugars

As much as we may desire to, it can be unrealistic to go completely cold turkey and quit having sugary food and drinks altogether. If you can’t live without your sweet treats, it is better to employ some gradual lifestyle changes. Going on a full sugar detox can cause withdrawal symptoms, making it even more difficult to resist. Even worse, it can cause you to give in and consume more than you usually do!

Some actionable goals that you can consider having are:

  • Limiting sugary drinks to once a week

  • Order kosong (no sugar) or siew dai (less sugar) instead (for bubble tea, get 0% or 25% sugar level with less or no pearls!)

  • Pass on having dessert after dinner

  • Cut out one sweet food from your diet each week

The good thing about such goals is that they help you to retrain your taste buds. Not adding sugar to your coffee might seem like a big step, but eventually, you will lose the need for that sugar taste.

Have you ever experienced the feeling where you just can't stop eating from a bag of chips, even though you feel sick to the stomach from gouging yourself with so many already?

Here are some tips to keep these unhealthy snacking habits at bay:

1. Stop buying snacks altogether

It sounds obvious, but you have to eat the snacks that you buy. It takes a lot more willpower to stop yourself if you only have to go so far as the pantry or the fridge. If you can, cultivate the habit of not buying snacks totally and your cravings might just subside over time!

2. Refrain from buying snacks in large quantities

It might be tempting to stock up on snacks "for everyone to share". However, think about it this way: somebody has to eat them eventually. Bear in mind who in your family or workplace are actually eating these snacks. If you're the only one eating from it, maybe it's time to rethink what and how much you're buying.

3. Just say no

What if your office pantry is perpetually filled with snacks? Or if you're at a gathering with your friends and somebody opens a bag of chips? If somebody offers you a snack, it will serve you better to just reject their offer from the start. This makes it a lot easier to resist than if you had a few bites already and THEN try to stop yourself from having more.

4. Portion control

There's nothing wrong with having the occasional snack. However, things go mayhem when you can't control how much you eat. When you can, ensure that you portion out how much you will eat in one sitting. It's a lot more difficult to control how much chips you eat if you're eating straight from the bag, rather than portioning it out into a bowl first.

4. Eat healthier snacks

Don't worry if you can't go about your day without snacking. Opt for healthier snacks instead, such as nuts, fruits, bread or unsweetened tea.

5. Distract yourself when cravings hit

Find distractions for yourself when you crave a snack, such as using your phone, tackling a problem, or talking to someone. It might just help you forget you ever had that craving!

Also, take note when such cravings hit. Evidence shows that your circadian rhythm, or internal clock, increases hunger for snacks and sweet foods in the evenings. Once you're aware of when your cravings occur, it might be easier to distract yourself when you feel the need to eat something sweet.

6. Brush your teeth or eat a mint

Brushing your teeth helps you to stop yourself from eating anything entirely. If it's too troublesome to bring your toothbrush around, consider eating a sugarfree mint instead.

This tip is especially useful if you find yourself getting cravings late at night. Suppers are a pesky cause of weight gain!

It can be hard to tell how much sugar you actually consume daily. The ice cream shop isn't gonna tell you how many grams of sugar are in that single scoop of ice cream. However, at the end of the day, the important thing to remember is: moderation is key. Don’t be guilty of rewarding yourself with that occasional teh bing, but just be mindful of how often you're giving in to your sweet cravings!

Source: SELF, Healthline, HuffPost, SugarScience, ThriveGlobal, WebMD, GH