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Sugar: Better to eat less of it

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How to spot sugar in our food which can lead to obesity, hypertension & heart disease, a registered dietitian shares her knowledge. 

Photos by Gettyimages/Thinkstock.

HEALTH 

Bitter truths about sweet deals

Underneath the sugar and syrup lie myriad health risks

10/09/2013

Napamon Roongwitoo

One of the most common breakfast choices for Thai people is deep-fried dough (pa tong ko) and sweetened condensed milk, to go with a cup of coffee. Sounds ordinary, almost predictable. But that simple meal comes with more sugar than you're recommended to consume in a day.

A packet of ready-mix coffee contains 8g of sugar, while a 454ml cup of whole milk latte gives you about 20g of sugar. A teaspoon of condensed milk contains 3-4g of sugar, and to fully enjoy the fried dough, we need about 10 teaspoons, or up to 40g, of sugar in our bloodstream.

That's about 50-60g of sugar in a meal. The recommended daily intake, however, is not more than 25g of sugar for women and no more than 37.5g for men.

Somsri Tachavarakul, dietician at Bumrungrad Hospital, said that people nowadays are more hooked on sweetness than ever, and statistics have shown that Thai people have developed quite a sweet tooth over the years, and the addiction has led to a myriad number of health problems, from obesity and hypertension to heart disease.

Some beverages, even seemingly healthy fruit juices, are loaded with sugar.

"Recently, the Ministry of Health revealed that Thai people consume almost 30kg of sugar each year, and that's three times higher than the recommended amount," the dietician said.

Another big issue in Thailand is the misconception surrounding the use of sweeteners. There are more than 10 kinds of sweeteners available at supermarkets today, from white sugar, brown sugar, caramel sugar, low-calorie sugar, palm sugar, syrup and honey to artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose. Some people are under the misunderstanding that certain sweeteners are better and therefore can be consumed in larger amounts.

Under the different names and sources, the nutritional and health-related differences might not be that significant, according to Somsri. "Speaking of natural sweeteners, the calories in them are not that different, and nor is the nutritional value," she said. They are basically empty calories.

While some sweeteners, such as honey, are said to contain some nutrients, the amount is so small that they should not be counted as part of your daily nutritional intake.

On the other hand, artificial sweeteners are not "healthier" substitutes for sugar. Somsri said that while studies still show mixed results regarding the danger of artificial sweeteners, most of the tests were conducted on mice, not human beings.

"Some believe it's perfectly fine, while some say they might have certain negative effects on the body. I would not advise pregnant women or children to choose artificial sweeteners, because the risk is not zero."

Diet drinks contain artificial sweeteners, and since we are led to believe they are "guilt-free" treats, we might be tempted to drink a little too much of them, which can lead to other health problems. With or without sugar, carbonated soft drinks might cause bone density loss or even osteoporosis.

"The explanation is that the phosphate content of soft drinks is very high. When phosphate levels are high and calcium levels are low, the calcium in our body is pulled out of the bones, and insufficient calcium can cause your bones to be weaker," Somsri said. She also warned that diet drinks frequently can make a person more dependent on sweetness and crave treats more often.

Functional drinks and beauty drinks, even ones that boast weight-loss benefits, also contain sugar. They might be promoted as healthy drinks, but the sugar in them might be as high as in other drinks. Some are fruit-based, which means they have natural fructose, while some have added sugar. "Diet coffees, beauty drinks or other functional drinks all contain sugar of a sort, whether from fruit or from added sweetener. Always check the label carefully before you drink them, because you might end up getting more sugar than your body needs," the dietician said.

Some beverages, even seemingly healthy fruit juices, are loaded with sugar.

Sugar is also hidden in many drinks and food. Of course, we know that cakes and cookies have sugar, but sometimes we forget to think about the naturally occurring sweetness in fruits and milk. Somsri said that fruit juices should be consumed carefully. "Some brands make their juices from concentrate, some from syrup, and some from real fruit. Even brands that claim their juices are 100% natural should be consumed with caution. When we eat two apples, they don't even taste the same, so how can hundreds of cartons of apple juice from one company taste the same? It just doesn't sound natural."

The bottom line is everything should be consumed in moderation, and it makes no sense to cut sweetness from our daily life altogether. To cut down your sugar intake, Somsri has some advice from her experience with her patients.

"Just by giving up drinks that contain calories and switching to water, you could lower your sugar intake tremendously. Office people nowadays are fuelled by coffee, bubble tea or bottled green tea, and each cup or bottle gives a lot of calories. I have seen many people losing weight healthily just by sticking to water. Save sugary things for special occasions - they should not be a habit," she said.

Myths about sweeteners

Brown rice is a healthier option than white rice, so brown sugar is better than white sugar.

Somsri said brown sugar and white sugar are both made from sugarcane, but white sugar has been bleached to remove the molasses. The difference in terms of calories is almost non-existent, while the nutritional value of both is so small most people don't consider it.

- Consuming a lot of sugar will give you diabetes.

Sugar is not the direct culprit of diabetes, Somsri explained. However, overconsumption of sugar leads to an excessive intake of calories, which in turn leads to obesity, and obesity can cause diabetes. Whether a person gains weight from sugar or other food sources does not make much difference to the risk of diabetes.

- Diet drinks have no calories so an unlimited amount can be consumed.

While the calories are very low, soda drinks are not good for your health. Phosphoric acid, a major component in most fizzy drinks, may be to blame for osteoporosis. It also teaches your body to be more dependent on sweetness and crave sweet treats more often.

- Sugar-free means low calories.

Sugar is not the only ingredient that gives you calories. Sugar-free does not necessarily mean carbohydrate-free, fat-free or calorie-free, and some products simply add other sweeteners to replace sugar, and those sweeteners might be just as high in calories. Check the labels carefully before eating.

- Unsweetened or no-added sugar means the food has no sugar.

Some foods naturally have sugar, such as dairy products and fruits. Unsweetened yoghurt, for example, would still have some sweetness in it.

- Why do we crave sweetness?

For those of us who are leading a stressful life, our body is attracted to sweet things. The adrenal system is what our body calls upon in time of stress. When we were cavemen and encountered danger, our body would stimulate the adrenal system. This would dump all kinds of hormones into the bloodstream. It gives you that energy rush, and the purpose for that is to fuel your muscles quickly so you can run from the danger or fight it.

Nowadays, we're not running from anything, but we're constantly stimulating that system with stress. The minute we wake up in the morning, we're emailing, calling, texting, or driving in traffic, and those activities stimulate the adrenal system. The blood sugar runs wild with the adrenal response, so the body naturally asks for something to bring the blood sugar up. Most of the food available at that time of day would be white bread, pastries, and sugar. Those foods are the ones that bring the blood sugar up quickly, but then it comes straight down again without leaving you feeling full, so your body craves something more. It's a vicious cycle.

- Eve Persak, a registered dietitian and wellness consultant at COMO Shambhala Estate Bali.

http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/health/368916/bitter-truths-about-sweet-deals

Learn from listening

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Vocabulary:

addiction: a strong need or wish to spend as much time as possible doing a particular activity -

advise: to tell somebody what you think they should do in a particular situation - แนะนำ, แจ้ง

artificial: made by people instead of being something natural - ที่ประดิษฐ์ขึ้น

base: to use an idea, a fact, a situation, etc. as the point from which something can be developed - วางรากฐาน

basically: in the most important ways, without considering things that are less important - โดยพื้นฐาน, โดยแท้จริง, โดยทั่วๆ ไป

beverage: a drink of any type - เครื่องดื่ม

bitter: involving very angry feelings - ความขมขื่น

bitter: having a strong unpleasant taste - ขม

bone: the hard inner structure of the body - กระดูก

calorie: a measure of how much energy a person gets from food (people worried about eating many calories and becoming fat); a unit for measuring heat - แคลอรี, หน่วยความร้อน ใช้สัญลักษณ์ cal 1 แคลอรี คือ ปริมาณความร้อนที่ทำให้น้ำหนึ่งกรัมมีอุณหภูมิสูงขึ้นจาก 14.5 °C เป็น 15.5°C ที่ความดันปกติ 1 cal = 4.185 J

carbonated: when a drink has gas and little bubbles in it, like Coke - ที่มีก๊าซคาร์บอนไดออกไซด์

carton: a light cardboard or plastic box or pot for holding goods, especially food or liquid; the contents of a carton; a large container in which goods are packed in smaller containers - กล่อง

caution: careful thought and lack of hurry in order to try to avoid risks or danger - ความระมัดระวัง

common: ordinary; not unusual or special - ที่เกิดขึ้นทุกวัน, ธรรมดา

conduct: to carry out — - ดำเนิน

consume: to eat, drink or use something - บริโภค

count as: be included with something; to be regarded as -

crave: to have a very strong desire for something - ปรารถนา, ต้องการ

deal: a formal agreement, especially in business or politics - ข้อตกลง, การตกลงซื้อขาย, การซื้อขาย

deep-fried: cooked in oil that covers the food completely - ทอดในน้ำมัน

density: the amount of something in a place - ความหนาแน่น

dependent: needing somebody/something in order to survive or be successful - ที่ต้องพึ่งพิง

develop: to think of or produce a new idea, product, etc. and make it successful; to build new houses, factories, etc. on an area of land, especially land that was not being used effectively before - พัฒนา

dietitian: an expert in food and nutrition who advises people on what to eat in order to lead a healthy lifestyle or achieve health-related goals (Source: Wikipedia)(also written "dietician") - ผู้ให้คำปรึกษาเกี่ยวกับอาหารเพื่อสุขภาพ, นักโภชนาการ,

dough: flour mixed with water and often yeast, fat or sugar so that it is ready for baking - ส่วนผสมของแป้ง น้ำ และอื่นๆ เช่น ยีสต์, น้ำมัน, เนย, น้ำตาล (เพื่อนำไปอบขนมปัง)

effect: a change that somebody/something causes in somebody/something else; a result - ผลกระทบ

empty: having nothing inside - ว่างเปล่า

end up: to be in a certain situation or place after doing something - ลงท้าย, ในที่สุด, ลงเอย

explanation: a description of how something happened or happens; giving the reasons why it happened - การอธิบาย, การชี้แจง, การขยายความ, คำอธิบาย

frequently: happening often - บ่อยๆ

fuel: to supply something with material that can be burnt to produce heat or power - เติมน้ำมันเชื้อเพลิง

guilt: the unhappy feelings caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something wrong - ความรู้สึกผิด, ความสำนึก

habit: a thing that you do often and almost without thinking, especially something that is hard to stop doing - กิจวัตร, สิ่งที่เป็นนิสัย, สิ่งที่ทำเป็นประจำ

hypertension: high blood pressure - ความดันโลหิตสูง

intake: the amount that goes into someone or something -

issue: a problem that needs to be considered - ประเด็น

loaded up: loaded with material - ขนขึ้น

misconception: a belief or an idea that is not based on correct information, or that is not understood by people - ความเข้าใจผิด

misunderstanding: a situation in which a comment, an instruction, etc. is not understood correctly - ความเข้าใจผิด

mixed: a combination or mixture of different things - ผสม

myriad: an extremely large number of something - มากมายมหาศาล, ซึ่งมีจำนวนมหาศาล, ซึ่งนับไม่ถ้วน

myths: existing only in myths; imaginary, or not real - ซึ่งเป็นนิทาน

natural: existing in nature; not made or caused by humans - เป็นธรรมชาติ, ตามธรรมชาติ

natural: normal; as you would expect - ตามธรรมชาติ, เหมือนจริง

naturally: without special help, treatment or action by somebody - ตามธรรมชาติ, โดยกำเนิด

negative: bad - ที่เป็นด้านลบ

nutrient: a substance that is needed to keep a living thing alive and to help it to grow - ธาตุอาหาร, สารอาหาร

nutrition: food considered as something that keeps you healthy - โภชนาการ

occurrence: happening - เหตุการณ์ที่เกิดขึ้น, สิ่งที่เกิดขึ้น

on the other hand: and looking at the opposite situation .... or another situation ... - ตรงกันข้าม

ordinary: not unusual or different in any way - ธรรมดา, ปกติ

osteoporosis: a disease that causes weak bones - โรคกระดูกพรุน; ภาวะกระดูกพรุน

packet: a small paper or cardboard container in which a number of small objects are kept or sold - ห่อของเล็กๆ

perfectly fine: good, ok, not problems -

pregnant: having a baby developing inside the body - ท้อง ตั้งครรภ์

recommended: suggested; saying that something is very good or useful - เป็นที่แนะนำ

regard as: to consider to be - ถือว่า

registered dietitian: "Registered Dietitians (RD or RDN) are dietitians who meet academic and professional requirements, including earning at least a bachelor's degree, and fulfilling a specially-designed, accredited nutrition curriculum, passing a registration exam, and completing a supervised program of practice at a health care facility, foodservice organization or community agency." (Source: Wikipedia) -

relate to: to be connected with something/somebody; to refer to something/somebody - เชื่อมโยงกับ

reveal: to show or let something become known - เปิดเผย

risk: to cause someone or something to be in a dangerous situation - เสี่ยงอันตราย

seemingly: according to what you know or how something appears, - ตามที่ปรากฏ

significant: important - สำคัญ

soft drink: nonalcoholic drink such as Coke or Fanta, soda, pop - เครื่องดื่มซึ่งไม่ใช่เหล้า, เครื่องดื่มชนิดอ่อน

special occasion: a special event -

statistics: a collection of information shown in numbers - สถิติ

stick to: to continue with something or continue doing/using something - ใช้ต่อไป, ทำต่อไป

stressful: involving or causing a lot of pressure or worry - ตึงเครียด

study: A setting of the mind or thoughts upon a subject; hence, application of mind to books, arts, or science, or to any subject, for the purpose of acquiring knowledge. - งานวิจัย

substitute: a person or thing that is used instead of another person or thing - คนหรือสิ่งที่เข้าแทน

surrounding: to be closely connected with a situation or an event - เชื่อมต่อกัน เกี่ยวข้องกับ

sweet tooth: if you have a sweet tooth, you like eating sweet foods, especially sweets and chocolate - ชอบของหวาน

tempting: making people want to have it, do it, etc - ล่อใจ,ยั่วใจ

treat: something very pleasant and enjoyable, especially food - อาหารที่น่ารับประทาน

tremendously: extremely, especially in a good way -

underneath: under or below something else, especially when it is hidden or covered by the thing on top - ภายใต้, ข้างใต้

vicious cycle (circle): a continuing unpleasant situation, created when one problem causes another problem which then makes the first problem worse - วงจรของปัญหา

warn: to make someone aware of a possible problem or danger - เตือน

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