Singapore officials drawing up plans to curb sugar levels in food products

By Lester Wan

- Last updated on GMT

Singapore's Health Promotion Board's sugar-reduction guidelines will target food manufacturers and restaurants. ©GettyImages
Singapore's Health Promotion Board's sugar-reduction guidelines will target food manufacturers and restaurants. ©GettyImages

Related tags Sugar Nutrition

Singapore’s Health Promotion Board (HPB) said it is drawing up guidelines for food manufacturers and restaurants to reduce the amount of sugar in their food products.

HPB chief executive Zee Yoong Kang and director of policy Annie Ling said the guidelines would especially target the reduction of sugar in sauces, sweet drinks and desserts.

“This will inform processors how much sugar should be used for each type of product, and will be done in close consultation with the industry,”​ said Ling.

It said that refined carbohydrates such as rice, noodles and cane sugar constitute more than half of an average Singaporean’s carbohydrate intake. Of this amount, sugar intake is about 22%. HPB hopes to reduce sugar intake to 17%.

Zee said sugar reduction is a process he has seen work with sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs).

"By gradually reducing the sugar content over time, it allows for the palates of consumers to adjust," ​he said.

Further reformulation?

More than that, HPB is also looking at ways to replace cane sugar with other healthier or alternatives.

Dr Eunice Pang, HPB food scientist, said the idea is a partial replacement of refined sugar with novel sugars — isomaltulose and allulose. These sugars naturally occur in fruits and vegetables.

According to her, these novel sugars can be used together with (less) regular sugar to create sauces that are healthier and with a lower glycaemic index.

HPB is also looking at replacing sugar in desserts with plant fibres, such as inulin and oligofructose, and is working with restaurant chefs to recreate dishes with these sugar alternatives.

Dr Pang said that this sugar replacement process in food is challenging, as alternative sugars affect the chemical composition of the food, and therefore its taste and texture as well. 

Carbs challenge

In tandem with the move towards sugar reduction, HPB also aims to increase the amount of unrefined carbohydrates people consume, from 17% to 35%.

From July, HPB launched the Healthier Ingredient Development Scheme (HIDS) to address the food industry, to improve the quality of Singaporeans’ diets.

HIDS encourages food manufacturers to innovate and develop a wider variety of healthier ingredients suited to local taste, especially for oil and grain staples such as rice and noodles, and to support the food industry in promoting the uptake of healthier ingredients. HIDS will fund up to 80% of the total qualifying project investment.

HPB said that since the launch of HIDS, S$5m has been given to fund food manufacturers.

Separately, in line with HIDS, food manufacturers and suppliers who meet higher nutritional standards can carry an on-pack Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS).

HPB said currently there are about 2,600 food products accredited with HCS, across over 60 categories such as convenience meals, sauces, beverages and breakfast cereals.

Other government moves to curb sugar

There have also been several other moves by the government to reduce sugar intake. In mid-October, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and HPB met with industry representatives to discuss sugar level in beverages.

Subsequently, seven of the largest food and beverage firms, including Coca-Cola, F&N Foods, Malaysia Dairy Industries, Nestle, PepsiCo, Pokka and Yeo Hiap Seng, committed to having a maximum sugar content of 12% across all of their SSBs sold in Singapore, by 2020.

To further aid in the reduction of intake of SSBs, the Singapore government has also made healthier, lower-sugar drinks the default at all government premises under its Whole-of-Government (WOG) Healthier Drinks Policy.

Under the WOG Healthier Drinks Policy, all drinks sold or provided at government premises must comply with the requirements to have lower or no sugar.

According to government estimates, by 2050 one in five people in Singapore will suffer from diabetes.

There had been rumours that some form of sugar tax could have been included in Singapore’s budget, which took place earlier today (February 19), but these proved to be unfounded. However, the government did announce a GST increase. 

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