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How expats in Thailand can reduce sugar intake
How much sugar do you consume? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), six teaspoons per day is the recommended daily allowance. Thailand’s daily sugar consumption is more than four times that level, and is contributing towards Thailand’s rising health problems.
Children are particularly at risk, with excessive sugar intake leading to tooth decay and diabetes, as well as hypertension and heart disease in later life, says the WHO.
Obesity among children is also a major concern. According to the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, one fifth of Thai school children drink fizzy drinks every day, and one in three will become overweight by the time they are teenagers.
Obesity and associated illnesses costs Southeast Asia up to US$10billion annually on healthcare, according to Food Industry Asia.
Taxing sugar in Thailand
In September 2017, the Thai government introduced a tax on soft drinks that contain high sugar levels in order to encourage the manufacture and sale of healthier drinking options.
Other initiatives to help tackle rising obesity levels have seen the government commit to working with schools to ban fizzy drinks on a voluntary basis.
“Iced drinks, such as Cha Yen and Nom Yen, are packed with sugar” – Marcela Soto Prats, Nutritionist
Easy access to sugary foods and drinks contribute to the problem.
Phuket-based nutritionist and dietician Marcela Soto Prats warns that popular iced drinks, such as Cha Yen and Nom Yen, are packed with sugar, and can contain added syrup and sweetened condensed milk.
While the availability of such processed food is having an effect on Thai diets, sugar is also a key ingredient of many traditional dishes.
Typical culprits include most curries and the iconic som tam or papaya salad. Pad Thai sauce, for example, can contain as much as two tablespoons of sugar.
Did you know?
Pad Thai sauce can contain as much as two tablespoons of sugar.
Ensuring food intake is balanced with whole grains, healthy fats and protein, as well as restricting the availability of snacks, will also help to avoid sugar spikes and crashes.
A sugar crash, when your body is low on energy, can cause mood swings and cravings for sugary foods.
As alternatives, Soto Prats recommends snacks that contain nutrients high in energy, which build tissue and protect the immune system with minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.
Soto Prats suggestions:
- Baked sweet potato chips
- Smoothies containing vegetables
- Fresh fruit and seeds
- Nut butter
- Trail mix of dried fruit and nuts, using dates or dried fruit for natural sweeteners
If sweeteners are required for flavour in recipes, Soto Prats recommends coconut sugar, which is readily available in Thailand and will not result in a notable sugar spike.
Did you know?
Coconut sugar has a much lower glycemic index than common white sugar, according to the University of Sydney’s glycemic index database.
Reducing the appeal and impact of sugar
Social and lifestyle changes are another important consideration in monitoring your family’s sugar intake.
The increase in computer, mobile phone and social media use means families tend to spend more time indoors; this increases consumption of fast foods and sugary drinks as they are more convenient.
A more sedentary lifestyle and less exercise is certainly a trend that is contributing to rising obesity levels that saw Thailand ranked as the second highest obese nation in Asia in 2014.
Such a problem comes with a price. Obesity and associated illnesses costs Southeast Asia up to US$10billion annually on healthcare, according to a recent report by the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU).
Boosting your family’s health
Making sure children are involved in regular exercise and sport, and educating them about good eating habits, can reduce the risks associated with sugar consumption and obesity.
Regular checks and tests to monitor high cholesterol, diabetes, poor kidney or liver function or cardiac risk can help understand your health, and promote a greater sense of wellbeing.
Some global health insurance plans will include wellbeing cover, helping gain access preventative health checks and tests.