Aim: 25% cut in Singaporeans' sugar intake by 2020

Food being prepared at TungLok Signatures. The Chinese restaurant chain is one of the firms working with the HPB to re-work dishes to include sugar alternatives. Many Asian foods such as pad thai and sambal chilli rely on sugar to bring out the flavo
Food being prepared at TungLok Signatures. The Chinese restaurant chain is one of the firms working with the HPB to re-work dishes to include sugar alternatives. Many Asian foods such as pad thai and sambal chilli rely on sugar to bring out the flavour.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

HPB to draw up guidelines to reduce sugar in sauces, desserts, drinks, and find alternatives

By 2020, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) aims to get Singaporeans to cut their sugar intake by nearly a quarter, as well as include more unrefined carbohydrates, such as wholegrains, in their diet.

The HPB said yesterday that it is also drawing up a set of guidelines for food manufacturers to reduce the amount of sugar used in sauces, desserts and sweet drinks.

These moves in the war against diabetes come half a year after seven drink companies pledged to reduce the sugar in their beverages to 12 per cent by 2020.

Currently, refined carbohydrates - including starchy staples such as rice and noodles as well as cane sugar - make up the bulk of the average person's carbohydrate intake.

Sugar makes up 22 per cent of that intake of refined carbohydrates. The HPB is hoping to bring this down to 17 per cent.

The board also hopes to increase the proportion of unrefined carbohydrates - which include wholegrains - that people are consuming from 17 per cent to 35 per cent.

"Our bodies really do not need any carbohydrates from added sugar," said Dr Annie Ling, who is director of HPB's policy, research and surveillance division. "Over the years, Singaporeans have just become more used to less sweet drinks. We hope to replicate this for desserts and sauces."

 
 

The board is looking at ways to replace cane sugar with other natural alternatives like isomaltulose and allulose. These sugars can be found in fruits and vegetables, including sugar beets, figs and jackfruits.

They can be used together with regular sugar to create sauces that are healthier and have a lower glycaemic index.

However, they also tend to be more expensive. While regular table sugar goes for $1 per kg, the same amount of allulose sells for $6 to $9 per kg.

The HPB is also looking to replace sugar in desserts with plant fibres known as inulin and oligofructose.

"Sugar provides bulking and flavour to a food product - so it's not just about cutting sugar and adding sweeteners," said Dr Eunice Pang, a food scientist at the HPB.

The HPB is working with chefs of food and beverage firms, including Chinese restaurant chain TungLok, to re-work dishes to include these sugar alternatives.

"To translate the science into food we want to eat, we need the chefs," said HPB chief executive Zee Yoong Kang.

GETTING USED TO IT

Over the years, Singaporeans have just become more used to less sweet drinks. We hope to replicate this for desserts and sauces.

DR ANNIE LING, who is director of HPB's policy, research and surveillance division.

Chef Eric Teo, who is culinary director at food consultancy firm ET Culinary Arts, said that sugar is very important in Asian cooking, and substitutes often do not pass muster. For example, pad thai, dongpo pork and sambal chilli all rely on sugar to bring out the flavour.

Mr Zee said that the board is also looking at a set of guidelines, which could be made more stringent over time, for sauces and desserts to reduce their added sugar content.

"This has been a process we have seen work with sugar-sweetened beverages," Mr Zee said. "By gradually reducing the sugar content over time, it allows for the palates of consumers to adjust."

Senior Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat said yesterday that he was pleased to see "industry forerunners" taking the initiative to come up with lower sugar options.

"This move by the industry adds to our ongoing efforts to shift consumers' food choices by lightening palates and providing healthier alternatives," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2018, with the headline 'Aim: 25% cut in S'poreans' sugar intake by 2020'. Print Edition | Subscribe