“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – Benjamin Franklin.
The Health Promotion Board of Singapore is studying ways to help Singaporeans cut their sugar intake. Since it is one of my favourite topics, I’m making an attempt to give suggestions based on some research and my own experiences. Inputs from all of you are welcome, in the comments section.
My humble opinion is that campaigns can be held for awareness, but that is not enough to prompt people to change their food habits so easily. The health food stores and restaurants like soup and salad restaurants are not for everyone. They’re expensive for the common man who might prefer a low-cost option like a fast food restaurant. So the most important step is to make healthy food easily available and affordable to all. Concessions and incentives can be provided for those who choose to sell/ buy healthy food.
Increase availability and affordability of low GI foods
Glycemic Index (GI) is a measure of how much a particular food boosts blood sugar. Low and medium GI foods don’t raise blood glucose levels as much as high GI foods.
Special offers and discounts on low GI foods can encourage people to buy them.
- Whole grain foods like wholemeal bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta have much lower GI than white carbohydrates like white rice, noodles, white bread, plain flour which cause a spike in sugar levels. (Read this for healthier alternatives.)
- Fresh vegetables, particularly green, leafy vegetables since they are high in fibre.
- Nuts, lentils and fish.
- Some fruits such as berries, cherries, prunes, grapefruits, apples, pears, peaches and oranges.(We all know that eating fruits is better than drinking fruit juice.)
Slap higher taxes on sugary drinks and processed foods
The easiest way blood sugar levels spike is from sugary soft drinks, including fruit juices and highly processed food such as pastries, cakes, pies, sausages, ready meals, etc. Higher taxes on these high GI foods will result in higher cost for the consumers, which will deter them from consuming too much of those foods.
Encourage grocery stores and food stalls that sell healthy food
Concessions and rebates for such food stalls and stores will encourage more owners to join the health club! When people see more and more of such shops locally in public places such as malls, schools, offices, and hospitals both awareness and tendency to buy healthy food increases.
Incentivise low sugar options
Beverages and sweet dishes can be sold with decreasing sugar levels at slightly decreasing prices, at coffee shops and food and drinks stalls. A few cents may not make a significant difference in the cost, but this would encourage people to be aware of their sugar intake and opt for lesser sugar. That being said, the free sugar packets at the self-service counters of coffee shops and fast food joints should first be removed.
Make bottled water more affordable
This sounds like a no-brainer, but there are people who opt for a coke instead of water because it is cheaper. Bottled water should be made cheaper than any drink available in the grocery and convenience stores. This would encourage people to choose water instead of any drink that is cheaper.
Organize free health camps at community centres
The health camps can test blood sugar levels and also educate people on the health risks if diagnosed with diabetes, pre-diabetic risks and the benefits of a balanced healthy diet and exercise, even if you are not diabetic.
Do you have any suggestions that we can add on to these? I would love to hear from you.