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Beware the sugar content in your favourite drink

askST looks at the amount of sweet stuff that could raise health risks

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Watch out for the sugar in your drinks. The amount you consume can creep up on you without your even realising it.

A recent survey in the United Kingdom, conducted by British charity organisation Action on Sugar and released on Wednesday, said that 98 per cent of the 131 hot flavoured drinks analysed would receive a "red" warning label for containing excessive sugar.

More than a third of the drinks were also said to have the same amount of sugar, or more than, in a can of Coca-Cola, which contains nine teaspoons (tsp) of sugar in the UK.

A few local favourites come close to the amount of sugar in a 330ml can of Coke here, which has 6.8 teaspoons of sugar.

Ms Claudia Correia, a dietitian at the Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre, gave a breakdown on the amount of sugar in popular local drinks, with 5g of sugar making up one tsp.

  • SUGAR IN DRINKS

  • (Drinks in 250ml amounts, and sugar in grams and tsp)

    Teh: 22.5g (4.5 tsp)

    Kopi: 22.5g (4.5 tsp)

    Teh-C: 23.75g (4.75 tsp)

    Kopi-C: 18.25g (3.65 tsp)

    Barley: 17.5g (3.5 tsp)

    Milo dinosaur: 25.75g (5.15 tsp)

    Red Bull: 27g (5.4 tsp)

    Teh halia: 15g (3 tsp)

    Kopi siu dai: 16.25g (3.25 tsp)

    Kopi kau: 22.5g (4.5 tsp)

    Bubble tea: 18.75g (3.75 tsp)

    Soya bean milk with sugar: 24g (4.8 tsp)

    Grass jelly with sugar: 12g (2.4 tsp)

    Horlicks in semi-skimmed milk: 26g (5.2 tsp)

    Orange juice, 100 per cent pasteurised: 23g (4.6 tsp)

    Watermelon juice: 22.5g (4.5 tsp)

    Coke: 26.25g (5.25 tsp)

    Pepsi: 29.5g (5.9 tsp)

    Sprite: 28g (5.6 tsp)

    100plus: 15g (3 tsp)

Some of the drinks come close to busting the Health Promotion Board's (HPB's) recommendation of taking less than 10 per cent of your daily energy intake from added sugar. HPB's sugar intake recommendations are the same as the new recommendations issued last month by the United States government.

For example, it is recommended that a person who needs 1,800kcal (kilocalories) of energy daily should consume less than 3 tablespoons (or 45g) of sugar.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently recommended a further reduction - below 5 per cent of your daily energy intake coming from added sugar for additional health benefits.

That means a person who needs 1,800kcal of energy daily should consume less than 1.5 tablespoons of sugar (about 22g).

All this hullabaloo about sugar has its basis in studies which are increasingly showing that taking in too much of the sweet stuff can have serious health consequences, and we are not just talking about getting fat.

For instance, too much added sugar in your diet could significantly increase your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, according to a study published in the Journal Of The American Medical Association in April 2014.

Those who got 17 to 21 per cent of calories from added sugar had a 38 per cent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, compared to those who consumed 8 per cent of their calories from added sugar.

It is best to drink water and lots of it. "Water does not contain any calories or sugar, it keeps you hydrated and healthy," said Ms Correia.

She offers a few tips on how to avoid unwanted and unnecessary sugar:

• If you are ordering your coffee or tea from your local kopitiam, always go for Kopi O kosong or Teh O kosong, as they contain no sugar.

• Always ask for less/no sugar or less/no condensed milk.

• Always keep a lookout for the Healthier Choice label when buying packet or canned drinks. However, do keep in mind to drink these in moderation as well.

• If you are making your own coffee/tea, it is advisable to use only low-fat milk or reduced-sugar soya milk and avoid adding sugar.

• Avoid three-in-one drinks, they are high in sugar, too.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2016, with the headline 'Beware the sugar content in your favourite drink'. Print Edition | Subscribe