3-in-1 beverages come with hidden dangers

The Consumers Association of Penang calls upon Malaysians to abstain from consuming 3-in-1 beverages. These drinks and cereal preparations are cheap and convenient but are laden with excessive sugar which brings with it many hidden dangers to our health.

Malaysians are reported to be among the highest consumers of sugar in South East Asia. In the 1970s, Malaysians consumed about 17 teaspoons of sugar a day. This figure went up to about 21 teaspoons a day in the 1980s. Now, Malaysians are reported to be consuming an average of 24 teaspoons of sugar per day. This is because sugar is present in almost every kind of processed food as well as being an accompaniment to beverages at food outlets and at home.

In addition to these 24 teaspoons, beverage manufacturers have now found another way to increase our daily sugar intake.  They insidiously inject extra sugar into our diets by marketing 3-in-1 beverages such as coffee, tea, chocolate, malted drinks and cereal admixtures combined with creamer and substantial amounts of sugar. These beverages are cheap, easily available, convenient to consume and are targeted at people who lead busy lifestyles. They typically contain up to 4.4 teaspoons of sugar or about 80 kcal (kilo calories) each!

The glucose in the sugar gives the consumer a ‘sugar rush’ that they think will help by providing more energy at work or at school. By consuming something that is high in sugar content, and at the same time subconsciously believing that sugar is the real source of energy, many feel as though they actually have more energy. This is however, untrue and is only a placebo effect.

The truth is that we get all the energy that we need from our food sources. According to the Malaysian Dietary Guideline published by the Ministry of Health (MOH) in 1999, in order for us to obtain all our daily caloric requirements from food, all we need to do is eat a balanced diet from a wide variety of foods and eat in moderation. This is sufficient to provide us with our average daily energy requirement of between 1500 to 2500 kcal.

In fact, according to the Recommended Nutrient Intakes (RNIs) for Malaysians by the National Coordinating Committee on Food and Nutrition of MOH, as much as 70% of our energy requirement is obtained from food based carbohydrates alone (of which sugar is a form of) and the rest from fats and proteins. As such, there is absolutely no reason for us to ingest added sugar in any form for our energy needs.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) cautions that not more than 10% of our energy needs should come from sugar. If an adult were to live a fairly inactive lifestyle as most Malaysians are known to do, his daily caloric requirement would suffice at only 1500 kcal. If 10% of this energy were to come from added sugar, it would mean consuming 8 teaspoons of sugar or 150 kcal.

As reported, Malaysians are already consuming 24 teaspoons of sugar equivalent to 432 kcal. This is an increase of almost 300% over the WHO recommendation! In addition to this, a sachet of just one 3-in-1 chocolate drink containing 80 kcal would boost sugar intake by a further 512 kcal or approximately 340% over the WHO recommendation.

Unfortunately, many Malaysians do not stop at consuming just 1 sachet of these beverages in a day. We habitually consume far more added sugar and calories from these and other sugar-infused drinks in a misguided attempt to boost our energy levels. With 24 teaspoons of sugar already in the bloodstreams of most Malaysians, an additional 3 sachets of 3-in-1 beverages a day in excess of WHO’s cautioned 150 kcal would increase our sugar intake to 37 teaspoons or 670 kcal – exceeding the WHO safety threshold warning by almost 450%!

For those whose bodies are unable to regulate glucose, irreversible diabetes can result. This sugar if left unexpended as energy can be metabolised by the liver and returned to the bloodstream as fat. For those who absorb these additional and unnecessary calories from the sugar and creamer which is also laden with calories and saturated fats, and who live sedentary lifestyles, obesity and cardio-vascular diseases are a real risk. Sugar also feeds cancer cells and is linked to more than 60 other diseases. It destroys the body in many ways – eroding health, planting disease and ultimately shortening our lives. In short, sugar kills!

Sugar is an unnecessary and dangerous pleasure drug. At a time when Malaysians make up the fourth highest number of diabetics in Asia, it is imperative that we desist from consuming sugar-laden 3-in-1 beverages as a start to living sugar-free lives. It would mean the beginning of healthy and productive Malaysian lives free from the addiction to sugar.

Press Statement, 29 September 2010