Children (and even adults!) are drawn to sweet foods and drinks, hence there are many shops serving sugar-loaded drinks and foods such as bubble tea and desserts.
However, we tend to consume these excessively and frequently, which can lead to unhealthy consequences in the long run.
Sugar is the simplest form of carbohydrate and provides energy for our body to function, but it has no other nutrients on its own.
Two forms of sugar can be found in foods: extrinsic and intrinsic.
Extrinsic sugar is sugar added to foods during the making process to enhance the flavour or for other functions.
On the other hand, intrinsic sugar is the natural sugar found in fruits, vegetables and milk products.
Overconsumption of sugar leads to unnecessary calorie or energy intake.
The excess calories that are not burned off become fat in the body.
This is one of the factors for the high prevalence of overweight and obesity problems in Malaysia, leading to the increasing number of chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as type 2 diabetes mellitus and coronary heart disease.
Frequent sugar consumption also plays a major role in the development of dental caries.
This happens when bacteria on dental plaque react with sugar in foods or drinks to produce acids that gradually dissolve tooth enamel.
Studies have also found that a diet high in sugar may reduce the intake of micronutrients in children.
The 2015 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) found that 11.8% of those below 18 years of age were obese.
A total of 1.65 million Malaysian schoolchildren are expected to be overweight or obese by 2025 if nothing is done to mitigate the issue.
Overweight and obesity are caused by excessive calorie intake, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle.
Excessive calorie intake can occur with overconsumption of sugar, as well as with high intake of fatty, fried and oily foods, and overconsumption of carbohydrate-rich foods.
Decrease the sweets
Follow these key recommendations to help control your family’s sugar consumption.
Swap cakes, biscuits and ice cream for healthier options like fresh fruits, steamed corn and groundnuts.
When having desserts and kuih, choose varieties with less sugar, cream and icing.
Have smaller portions of dessert and limit intake to not more than once a day.
Take note that savoury foods may also contain sugar.
Opt for plain water or milk, not sugar-sweetened beverages, to accompany main meals and to quench thirst between meals or before bedtime.
Choose plain milk, soy milk or cultured milk with less sugar.
Note that fruit juices contain high amounts of sugar and overconsumption of these juices should be avoided.
During grocery shopping, read the nutrition information panel on the labels and compare the nutrients with other products.
Check the list of ingredients for sugar and its other names such as sucrose, corn syrup or caramel.
If any of these are listed at the beginning of the list, it means that sugar is one of the main ingredients of the product.
Choose products with the “sugar-free” or “less sugar” label.
Avoid giving sugary foods or drinks to children below one year of age so that they will not develop a preference for sweet foods.
Use less sugar in food preparation and when cooking.
Also try not to give sweet snacks as treats or rewards to children.
We as adults must also practise these recommendations and teach the importance of healthy eating to our kids.
Parents play a key role in making healthier food choices for themselves and their family members.
Choose foods and meals that are low in sugar, salt, fats and oil, and opt for more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Consume balanced meals and always eat moderate amounts.
Remember that healthy eating is not just reducing or cutting out any single food or nutrient – it is an entire package.
Dr Tee E Siong is a nutritionist and president of the Nutrition Society of Malaysia. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email email@example.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.