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Bitter sweet

Dec 15. 2015
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By SPECIAL TO THE NATION

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The health-damaging aftertaste of sugar and artificial sweeteners

Thai chefs are renowned for expertly combining sweet, salty, spicy and sour ingredients in delicious salads, curries, marinades, and more.

Of the four famous flavours of Thai cuisine, sweetness, provided by sugar, palm sugar, or artificial sweeteners should be reduced significantly in our daily diet, says Dr Somboon Roongphornchai, anti-ageing and weight loss physician with Bangkok’s Vitallife Wellness Centre.

“As reported in many health magazines, newspaper columns, blogs, and TV shows, excess sugar in the diet has been identified as the cause of a wide range of diseases including heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis,” Dr Somboon adds.

“Excess sugar consumption has also triggered higher rates of diabetes, obesity and fatty liver. Worryingly, more young people and children are being diagnosed with these conditions than ever before – in the past, these diseases were mostly associated with adults in their 40s and above.”

While sugar moderation is highly recommended for good health, Dr Somboon adds that not all sugars are the same.

“Glucose is the sugar our bodies create from natural, simple carbs like pasta or rice. It is easily absorbed into the liver and will move onto other parts of the body – glucose is vital because it provides energy for our cells, especially brain cells.

“Fructose on the other hand, is a sugar found in many fruits and vegetables, and added to drinks such as sodas and processed fruit juices. It differs from glucose because it doesn’t provide energy to muscles or the brain, rather it metabolises in the liver and is stored quickly as fat if not fully used.

“In addition, fructose does not stimulate insulin to be released. Quite simply, people with high intakes of dietary fructose are very likely to develop metabolic syndrome symptoms such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels to raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes.”

Dr Somboon says High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – a cheap sweetener derived from corn and added to many processed foods and drinks – is the number one ingredient to avoid.

“Developed in the late 1950s, HFCS is the preferred sweetener in many processed foods today, because it is cheaper than sugar cane and beets. It is estimated that HFCS is added in up to 80 per cent of foods eaten by many people every day.

“The surge in HFCS intake has major health implications because they are around 42-55 per cent fructose. Prolonged eating and drinking of HFCS high foods and beverages impairs liver function and suppresses the leptin hormone which regulates appetite – in other words, HFCS tricks the brain into overeating and can cause intestinal damage.”

To regulate sugar and HFCS in your daily diet, Dr Somboon urges people to read food labels to identify hidden sugar. He also encourages people to cook more often so they can control what goes in, and on, their food.

“Many people have a sweet tooth and it is fine to have a soda, cookie, ice cream or chocolate bar now and again – but make them treats not part of a regular diet. And if you want to add sugar to food when cooking, that’s okay, but try to avoid processed products made with added sugar like ketchup for example.

“Home chefs can also consider sweetening alternatives such as herb stevia or organic honey and cane sugar in small amounts.”

People who have high blood sugar levels can seek advice and guidance from Dr Somboon and his team. After analysing the patient’s diet and lifestyle, Dr Somboon will design a strict diet to reduce sugar, wheat and processed carbohydrates and increase the intake of vegetables and good fats such as omega-3 fatty acids.

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