SWEETNESS is just a matter of taste and not a necessity in a diet as a human body can survive even with zero sugar intake.
That is the opinion of a general and interventional cardiologist, Dr Peter Wong Mee Tong.
According to him, an average person should rely only on unpolished rice, potatoes, tapioca, fruits and flour to supplement their sugar intake.
“The body has its own system to produce sugar after these carbohydrates are broken down,” said Dr Wong of Normah Medical Specialist Centre, adding that a person need not take excess glucose from refined sugar.
“We don’t need any sugar intake for our body,” he reiterated.
Asked whether artificial sugar would have a significant dietary impact as an alternative to refined sugar, Dr Wong said “Basically, even artificial sugar has no functional value.”
“Moreover, there is no difference between brown and refined sugar. For all we know, brown sugar may have a lot of impurities.”
Dr Wong noted that Malaysians were adding too much ‘sweetness’ to their daily lives such as drinking sweetened carbonated soda water.
“The amount of sugar needed by the body is zero as the body can produce and absorb sugar from consumption of other daily food supplements.
“Even in coffeeshops, you will find people putting more than two spoonfuls of sugar into a small cup of beverage. Malaysians should go for black coffee or tea — kopi kosong or teh kosong as we call it locally,” he suggested.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, in explaining the rationale behind the hike of sugar price by 20 sen per kg, said Malaysians could cultivate the habit of consuming less sugar.
He stressed that it was illogical for the government to fork out almost RM1 billion yearly to subsidise a commodity that is detrimental to public health.
Najib said the decision to raise the price of sugar by 20 sen per kg was for the good of the people as the number of diabetics in the country was among the highest in the world.
Dr Wong supports the government’s move to increase the price of sugar to deter Malaysians from consuming too much of the commodity that is generally bad for their health.
However, he said increasing the price was only one factor as there were other ways to make Malaysians aware of the dangers of excessive sugar consumption.
He disclosed that Malaysia had a high incidence of diabetes with almost 15 per cent of its 25 million population already affected.
“It is even more acute for those above 50 as 25 per cent within this age group have a diabetic tendency.”
He noted that the incidence of diabetes had gone up a whooping 80 per cent in the past 10 years and still climbing.
“To counter diabetes, we have to change our lifestyle — more exercise and less eating since keeping slim could reduce incidence of the disease.”
According to Dr Wong, diabetes is also the main cause of blindness, kidney failure and heart attack among adults, saying these will increase three-fold in diabetics. Amputation due to blocked artery is also 40 to 50 per cent more likely to occur.
He said diabetes could only be treated if detected early or if a person suffers mild diabetes and received treatment within two to three years after being diagnosed.
“Overweight can cause diabetes and the only remedy is exercise which most people now do not do,” he said.
He said the incidence of diabetes was almost the same among the genders although some statistics showed it was slightly higher in women than men.
“This is mostly due to the issue of lifestyle, not genetics,” Dr Wong added.
The Prime Minister was also quoted as saying people should view the sugar price increase positively by changing their dietary habit for their own health.
Najib had said despite the hike, the commodity was still cheaper compared to other Asean countries.
Impact on small retaliters
Although it has been assured that costlier sugar will not have any signifcant impact on large food and beverage (F&B) companies in the country, smaller producers and retailers are feeling the pinch from higher raw material costs.
Local stall owner Mohd Dalizan said while he was not using much sugar in his diet and menu, consumers, especially in the rural areas and sub-urban villages, do bemoan the lack of the commodity.
Even if there were enough supply, he added, the villagers may still have to cough up a fair sum just to buy a kg of sugar. And sundry shop owners were usually quick to argue that they had to employ people to transport the goods to the villages.
“Although the government has hiked the price of sugar by only 20 sen per kg, ideally making it RM1.75 a kg in East Malaysia, the rural folks are having to pay RM1.90 to RM2 per kg for the commodity,” Dalizan noted.
Another stall owner Zairie Aidil expressed similar views, saying not only was the price of sugar dearer in the city’s outskirt but local suppliers were also lacking.
“We only get our sugar supply from the village sundry shops and supermarkets in the city, if any is available,” he lamented.
Zairie said he used a lot of sugar in his ‘mee jawa’ business.
“Everyday, I need to use about two kg to produce the ingredients for my noodles. Steady supply of sugar is hard to come by nowadays as those in the food business tend to buy in bulk,” he added.
Fauziah Rapaie who manages a drink business in a coffee shop said many customers preferred sweet drinks.
“Although we use a lot of sugar, our towkay will not increase the price of drinks … at the moment. We have to absorb the costs despite the price hike,” she said, adding that the cost involved was presently negligible.
However, she could not promise there would not be a hike in drink prices as an increase could come in the later part of the year.
Consumer Jaliha Mat said her family had been using less sugar all this while.
“Our consumption is very low even for food and drinks.”
In her experience, the increase in the sugar price has not affected her family much.
She said her family could do with just a kg of sugar which they may take more than a month to finish.