From a dash of coconut cream in a lunchtime laksa to a spoonful of condensed milk in a morning cup of kopi C, many favourite foods contain a large helping of sugar. Even fruit, which contains natural sugar (fructose), should be enjoyed carefully.
A sugary diet not only increases belly fat, more importantly, it inhibits the body's mechanism to know when to stop eating. The body is designed to crave whatever food is left in the digestive tract – so the more sugar you eat, the more you experience a spike in sugar levels. And when you come down from that surge, you crave more – and so the cycle goes on.
When blood sugar levels are raised, insulin is released into the bloodstream, which drives the excess sugar to the liver and muscles. If the body doesn't need this amount of sugar; it is converted directly into fat.
Sugar is found in nearly every dish you eat. Even people without a sweet tooth, but who enjoy a diet that is dependent on too many fizzy drinks and lots of processed food, will be surprised at how much sugar these foods contain. The average can of fizzy drink contains 10 teaspoons of sugar. Even a single serving of grape juice contains the same amount of sugar as two doughnuts.
Know your food: sugar and the glycemic index
While it's obvious that there's sugar in sweet foods, it's more difficult to know how much is hiding in those comforting, savoury treats. Help is at hand from the glycemic index (GI), a scale from one to 100 that measures how quickly a food raises blood glucose levels. Food that is high on the GI scale, and therefore high in sugar, includes fruit like watermelon and vegetables such as pumpkin. Carbohydrate-rich savouries like white rice and steamed buns also rank high on the GI chart.
You can avoid a surge in sugar levels by reducing the intake of foods that are carbohydrate-rich. A good way is to cut down on rice servings and increase vegetable portions. You can still enjoy rice, but swap white for brown, which has a lower GI and is broken down more slowly. This means it doesn't cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels – keeping you feeling full for longer.
To keep your blood sugar levels constant, go for whole foods that take longer to digest. Adding a serving of low GI-food can help to lower the index of your whole plate. When choosing vegetables it's worth remembering that the greens are usually best. Green beans have much less sugar than a vegetable like sweet corn. Eating fruit and vegetables in their natural form is also a good way to reduce sugar intake and maintain a healthy diet, as cooking them can alter their make up. Boiling carrots, for example, increases their GI rating from 15-20 when raw to 35-50 when cooked.
Here are three easy ways to help you cut down your sugar intake:
Swap your fruit juice for a fresh coconut.
Go for green beans over sweet corn.
Don't grab the grapes – pick a pear instead.
Once you know where sugar is hidden, it's easy to start making changes to ensure you don't consume too much. Here's another interesting read to help you balance the fat intake in your diet. Fat fact or fiction: The truth about losing weight.