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The sweet, deadly life


Excessive use of sugar is a public health crisis and everyone has to make a conscious effort to limit their consumption.

THE word sweet is not only associated with sugar, but also connotes something pleasant or desirable, eg la dolce vita, which is Italian for "the sweet life" or "the good life".

The taste of sugar releases feel-good hormones in the brain, which may explain why many people have cravings for sugar.

In reality, sugar has been labelled anything and everything but nice. Sugar, as they say, is a "killer", "drug", "toxic", "poison", "fatal", "deadly", "evil", and "addictive", to list a few.

Health experts are now arguing that sugar is harmful enough to be put in the same category as tobacco and alcohol.

Ultimately, excessive use of sugar is a public health crisis, and everyone has to make a conscious effort to limit their consumption.

Malaysia is the eighth highest sugar consumer in the world, and the fourth highest in Asia.

The Malaysian Government is spending millions of ringgit on trying to educate the public about the dangers of sugar through campaigns and advertisements - a plea to reduce sugar intake. .

Currently, according to statistics, an average Malaysian consumes about 19 teaspoons of sugar daily! The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends not more than six teaspoons per day of added sugar for women, and not more than nine teaspoons per day for men.

According to the association, high intake of sugar is associated with poor health conditions including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high triglyceride levels, which are risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

Men who drank a 12-ounce (355ml) sugar-sweetened beverage a day had a 20% higher risk of heart disease compared to men who didn't drink any sugar-sweetened drinks, according to research published inCirculation, an AHA journal.

"This study adds to the growing evidence that sugary beverages are detrimental to cardiovascular health," said Dr Frank B. Hu, lead author of the study and professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts.

"Certainly, it provides strong justification for reducing sugary beverage consumption among patients, and more importantly, in the general population."

Every other day, someone you know is diagnosed with diabetes, yet we hardly give it a thought, thinking that it will not happen to us. Many of us are guilty of skipping regular blood checks.

There are millions of people who are unaware that they have high sugar levels. As the saying goes, "ignorance is bliss" - people are happier and more comfortable not knowing the truth.

The best way is to lead a healthy lifestyle, have regular blood checks and cut down on sugary beverages.

The link between diabetes and sugar is most apparent when researchers look at sugary drinks. According to researcher Vasanti Malik and his team from Harvard, who summarised results from eight studies involving over 300,000 people, "for each 12oz (355ml) serving (a standard can) of a sugar-sweetened beverage you drink a day, you're getting about 15% increased risk for diabetes".

For those with a sweet tooth, there's an alternative to sugar that can satisfy our tastebuds. Stevia, also known as sweet leaf or Stevia rebaudiana, is about 300 times sweeter than sugar, but contains no calories. Stevia extract is made from the sweetest part of the stevia leaf, which is called Rebiana A (Reb-A).

In December 2008, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially granted GRAS (generally recognised as safe) status to high purity Reb-A for use as a general purpose sweetener. To date, there are no proven side-effects connected to the sweet leaf.

Stevia, as a natural sweetener, does not have the same taste as sugar. After all, when it comes to sweetness, no other sweeteners, whether natural or artificial, can ever measure up to sugar as sugar is the "gold standard" for taste because we are used to taking sugar since birth.



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