Sugar, the empty calories

SINGAPORE - There is no need for processed or added sugars in our diet, says Associate Professor Rob M. van Dam of the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

He explains that cutting down on unnecessary sweets will substantially improve people's health.

"Regular consumption of sugary beverages, even one serving a day, has been shown to lead to excess weight gain and has been linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes," he says. The World Health Organisation recently advised everyone to halve their daily sugar consumption to six teaspoons.

The move comes amid growing evidence that sugar contributes to a range of chronic diseases.

Prof van Dam says sugary drinks provide a lot of calories and people do not seem to fully compensate for these. Drinks do not make one feel 'full'.

On teacher Grace Heng's move to cut processed sugar from her diet, he says: "I believe it is fine to eradicate all sugar except for those naturally occurring in whole fruit and root vegetables."

"Healthier starchy foods such as whole grains and legumes are preferable to supply the sugar glucose while providing fibre and other healthy components.

"With the exception of whole fruit and some vegetables, sugar in foods is unhealthy because it adds a substantial amount of calories without providing nutritional value."

Glucose is needed as fuel in modest amounts, but this can also be supplied by healthier starchy foods and fruit.

But Prof van Dam says it is prudent to regularly consume a variety of whole fruits.

"Although fruit naturally contains sugars, these are modest amounts. And fruits are rich in many other valuable components that can lower risk of cardiovascular diseases."

Endocrinologist Eric Khoo from the Endocrinology Division of NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine says that in terms of sugar consumption, a recent national survey showed that there was an increase in the proportion of adult Singapore residents consuming sweet desserts more than twice per week.

There were 27 per cent in 2010, compared to the 18.9 per cent in 2004.

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