Life is sweet - too sweet
Looking back on past decades, there was a war on fat. We were educated to wean ourselves off fat in our diet to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Now it's time to put down the sugar.
The Ministry of Public Health last week reported that about 300,000 Thais had been diagnosed with diabetes in 2011 and one third didn't realise that they had the condition as they had never been properly diagnosed. Furthermore, 2.4 million Thais have elevated levels of sugar in their blood. Hyperglycaemia, or high blood sugar, can put people at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes _ Asia's "silent killer".
About 8,000 people die from diabetes each year in this country. The illness is a real threat to the health of Thai people.
The number of people who are living with diabetes doesn't surprise me. Hidden sugars are ubiquitous in processed foods. Sugar is added to bread, low-fat yoghurt and shredded pork to make them tempting. It's also an ingredient over-used by food vendors. I have noticed that food offered by stalls these days is too sweet. Vendors use too much sugar to balance out the flavours in a dish, including spicy curries and sour soups, and that takes away the authentic taste of Thai cuisine that emphasises well-blended flavours.
The taste of gaeng som (sour soup with fish and vegetables) made by a vendor is totally different from that cooked by my grandmother. Gaeng gai (curry with chicken) tastes funny with sugar added. If I wear a blindfold and then sample the curry cooked by a vendor, I would guess incorrectly; it just doesn't taste like traditional gaeng gai anymore.
What interested me most about the figures given by the Ministry of Public Health was that the leading cause of diabetes among Thais was over-consumption of sugar. On average we consume 20tsp of sugar per day _ far above the daily recommended intake of 6-8tsp, or about 24g. And, according to the ministry, about 17 million Thais are addicted to soda pop and sugary drinks, admitting that they consume the beverages every day. The number of people who are addicted to sweetened drinks shook me up.
I have to confess that I love sweets. I love sharing sweets as well as eating them alone. And I really love a sugary drink. I used to often indulge in orange juice with pulp bought from a convenience store after a strenuous session of exercise _ a reward after a workout. And my body also rewarded me when I consumed the beverage by making me feel euphoric every time.
I usually watch what I eat to some degree. The sugar content does appear on the label but I skipped tracking my sugar intake as I was distracted by the cocaine-like lure that I cannot stop drinking it if it's within reach. When I actually took a peek at the nutritional information on the package, I was completely shocked. That small bottle of juice is made up of 44g of added sugar. One bottle alone doubled the daily healthy amount of sugar, not to mention the chocolate chip cookies I enjoyed in the afternoon. I couldn't stop thinking about how much sugar I was putting in my body.
I don't have diabetes or hyperglycaemia. I realised that breaking my sugary drink addiction was essential. I don't know anyone who thinks that enjoying a large quantity of sugar is good for the health. We don't need to wait for a man in a white coat to tell us how too much sugar can ruin our health.
I've decided to declare war on sugar and sweetened drinks. I've told my buddy as I believe that it would help me stick with my goal if I told someone else about it.
My trick when eating out is to inform the service staff that we are limiting sugar intake, so please cut the amount by half from what the cook usually uses. We take this seriously. I tell the waiter I will ask for a refund if the taste of the food is not as good as promised.
It's painful dealing with sugar cravings. I held firm passing through a store quickly to get to my gym. I breathed deeply and tried to focus on something else in order to distract my attention from the juice. I said to myself I don't need a sugary drink, period. My vanity saved me.
I hope that the sugar withdrawal symptoms I'm experiencing will vanish within two weeks. A fortnight is not a long time, not when I have a wish to live to a nice old age with good health, or even to 100 as I have an exceptional genes for longevity passed down from my grandmother who lived to 104.
Sukhumaporn Laiyok is a reporter for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.