The bitter truth about sugar

SUGAR is sweet. But the bitter reality is that too much intake of sugar is poisonous to our bodies.

Per day, men, according to the American Heart Association, should not consume more than nine teaspoons of sugar and women should not take six teaspoons.

Going over that limit can lead to health problems such as weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and depression.

It is easy to go over the limit.

A few years ago, I used to drink Coke for breakfast, lunch and dinner and in between those three meals. I probably got into the habit when I was studying in the United States in the late 1990s.

Let’s just say I drank six cans a day. That’s six times more sugar than what my body could take. This probably led me to being overweight. And people started to use euphemisms on me such as “wah, you look so prosperous”.

Anyway, a few years ago, I stopped drinking Coke. I don’t exactly remember what the trigger was. Perhaps I read the shocking sugar content of a soda drink. Or maybe because the older I got, the less risks I took.

I started to drink more water (usually when I am at home) or if I was in mamak shop, then teh tarik kurang manis.

However, I was still not that strict with my sugar intake as I still drank litres of sweetened fruit juices bought from the supermarket.

These fruit juices are deceptive.

They are labelled “100% pure” and “not from concentrate”. But 350ml of lemonade is 9.8 teaspoons of sugar – the same as a 350ml can of Coke.

I had just replaced a drink with 9.8 teaspoons of sugar with a juice with 9.8 teaspoons of sugar. Both equally addictive.

The other day I went to the clinic because I had pain in my knee. The doctor checked my knees and then asked me a few health-related questions.

She then ordered a blood sugar test. The result was high.

“You better go to the emergency hall now. You have to get yourself admitted to a hospital,” she ordered.

“If you don’t go, you might be in a coma.”

“I’ll go tomorrow morning,” I said.

“You might think that you feel fine now, but you might suddenly collapse,” she said.

“I’ll probably go tomorrow as I got something to do tonight,” I said, as I had to be in the office that night and I had a political column to write.”

“It is your life. But you should go now,” she said.

Finally, three hours later, because I was thinking of my family and death, I went to the emergency room of a private hospital in my Subang Jaya neighbourhood.

I had to wait for two hours to see the doctor. I WhatsApp-ed my friend: “It is 9pm, and I am still waiting to see the doctor. Which I think is good news. As in, if I was really critical, the doctor would have seen me ASAP.”

The doctor examined me and referred me to a specialist. He did not have me hospitalised.

Two days later, the specialist gave me some medicines and told me to stop taking sugar for 40 days.

Yesterday, The Star ran a story quoting Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad as saying that “manufacturers of sugary drinks, including the several dozen bubble tea brands, should ‘self regulate’ by moderating the sweetness of their drinks to protect public health.”

He said the onus is on the beverage makers to reformulate their drinks, especially under the new sugar tax regime.

He noted that according to media reports, bubble tea contains excessive sugar levels.

“From my reading, 100ml of the popular drink has 20 teaspoons of sugar, while the allowed daily intake is only eight teaspoons.

“Consumers need to make in­­form­ed decisions about what they consume to avoid becoming obese,” Dzulkefly said, adding that Malaysia remains the most obese country

in South-East Asia.

It is a good suggestion by the Health Minister as many consu­mers might be ignorant of the fact that 100ml of bubble tea contains 20 teaspoons of sugar, which is more than double or triple the recommended daily consumption of sugar per day, according to the American Heart Association.

When I shop at a mall on the weekend, I’m amazed at the long lines at the bubble tea shops.

I wonder whether those lining up know that they are drinking 20 teaspoons of sugar.

Do they know – as the Health Minister said – that our daily sugar intake was “the real culprit” in making us fat?

A Health Ministry study, according to Dzulkefly, found that one in two Malaysians is overweight or obese. And obesity is the leading risk factor for “silent killer” disea­ses such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Sugar is sweet. But too much of it can – silently and eventually – kill you.

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