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Are brown sugar or honey healthier than white sugar?

Getting consumers to be aware of which drinks are high in sugar and saturated fat is one strategy in the country's war on diabetes.

For example, all such pre-packed beverages sold in Singapore must be labelled with a Nutri-Grade label by the end of the year. The Nutri-Grade mark indicates the amount of sugar and saturated fat in the drink.

While the labels may help consumers make more informed choices when it comes to drinks, there are myths about sugar that may be doing us more harm than good.

Q: Are brown sugar, honey or artificial sweeteners healthier than white sugar?

A: Brown sugar is basically white sugar with some molasses added to it. Just like white sugar, brown sugar will increase your blood glucose level the same way.

The same goes for natural sugars such as honey, as well as artificial sweeteners.

However, comparing by volume, artificial sweeteners have fewer calories than white sugar.

Q: Does sugar feed cancer cells in a person?

A: No, said Ms Tan Ying Xin, a senior dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.

"Sugar itself is not a carcinogenic substance. There are no conclusive human studies to directly suggest that sugar feeds or grows cancer cells."

All the cells and many organs in our body, cancerous or not, use glucose as their primary fuel. Glucose is a simple form of sugar.

The speculation that sugar feeds cancer cells has caused anxiety and led individuals to unnecessarily cut out all forms of carbohydrates in their diet, added Ms Tan.

"This is counterproductive for many cancer individuals who are already struggling to consume enough to maintain their weight."

Instead, the focus should be on avoiding excessive intake of refined sugar, which is found in sweetened drinks, sweets and cakes.

Overconsumption of sugar could lead to excess body fat and weight gain, which in turn ups the risk factor for someone to get certain types of cancer, said Ms Tan. Some examples include breast cancer in postmenopausal women and colorectal cancer, or cancer of the colon and rectum.

All pre-packed beverages sold in Singapore must be labelled with a Nutri-Grade label by the end of the year. PHOTO: ST FILE

Q: Is fruit juice healthier than soda or sweetened drinks?

A: It depends on how it is consumed and the amount taken.

Fruits have naturally occurring sugars such as fructose. Drinking too much fruit juice over a period of time could lead to weight gain.

The fructose could also cause blood sugar levels to spike. To slow down the body's absorption of sugar, one could try blending the fruit to include the fibre instead of just juicing it.

Ms Tan said: "The fibre content of food can slow down the movement of food from your stomach to the intestines and at the same time alter the release of hormones and enzymes, resulting in a slower rise in blood sugar levels."

The recommended daily intake of fruit is two servings. One orange constitutes one serving and a glass of orange juice could be the equivalent of three oranges, depending on the size of the glass.

Q: Is that 'sugar rush' really caused by having something sweet?

A: That feel-good feeling is more likely from the release of dopamine instead of the rise in blood sugar itself, said Ms Tan.

"When we consume carbohydrate-containing foods, insulin is produced, which helps transport the sugar to our organs such as the heart and brain where it gets converted to energy. This might cause one to think that they have all this extra energy."

Q: Is high-fructose corn syrup worse than white sugar?

A: High-fructose corn syrup is made from cornstarch and contains water, glucose and fructose, the same sugars that are found in fruit.

The syrup is used in many processed foods and drinks, and critics believe that high-fructose corn syrup is linked to obesity.

However, there have been no conclusive human studies to show that high-fructose corn syrup is more harmful than other types of sugar, said Ms Tan.

She added: "Consuming a diet high in sugar, whatever the type, can all lead to weight gain and increase your risk of disease."

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