Sugar in Asia


Walking in the Kingdom of Cambodia is not an easy endeavour. The heat is intense and I scuttle between shade patches to my destinations. A sweaty and huffy little show of my commitment to a healthy lifestyle. As I walk I fend off the almost constant questions addressed to me, “Tuk madam?” “Motor, madam?” I have a little hip wave with my palm facing out that seems to do the trick and accompany that, with a grin, means I can concentrate on navigating the pavement obstacles without missing a step or falling onto and because of some concrete pavement protuberance.

The city of Phnom Penh is a sprawling Asian metropolis. The air often thick with humidity and dust. In Asia, in general the gardening practice is to keep the earth free of coverings, so you can see the snakes, I was told. This means that as soon as the winds come the dust lifts into the air and mixes with the general petrol based pollution to form a smog layer over the city. It was very evident when I flew in a couple of weeks ago. The monsoon rains didn’t really eventuate last year and the weather which should be relatively cool is steaming hot and will get hotter. My little walks to my favourite haunts may be lessened as the heat envelops Cambodia. It’s like a personality in and of itself, a smothering mother of an experience.

There’s quite a large ex-pat community in Cambodia mainly associated with NGO’s (non government organisations) working on worthy causes, such as Malaria research and prevention, human trafficking issues, cultural enhancement in a society denuded of its cultural and human heritage and education. It is early days for me here I have some yoga students and a few people I see as a therapist but really I am attempting to work out how to be healthy in a climate that has at its core rampant humidity, heat, infectious organisms and parasites that can easily become serious health issues. As soon as you get off the airplane in Asia and out of the air conditioning the sweating begins and with that mineral depletion. So my first tip for healthy living in hot humid countries is take a good mineral supplement. The water we all drink in Asia is mostly distilled and clean, as all get out, that means it is not replenishing tissue mineral supplies. Most of the fluid replacement supplements are full of sugar as is the whole diet of SE Asia. The fish and meats are cooked with sugar and salt, the vegetables are too. Any sauces or dressings are sugar laced, I don’t suppose you have ever thought about how much sugar is in Balsamic vinegar, it does contain sugar and you should watch your portion size if you are pre-diabetic, diabetic, over weight or attempting to avoid sugar and its health draining effects.

As some of you may be aware I have eliminated added sugar from my diet, more or less, more rather than less. Of course it is impossible to eliminate sugar completely, sugar in fruit, sugar in starches. Sugar is our basic fuel but the trick is to eat sugar that, in its food form, takes a long time to turn into simple sugars. In Asia diabetes is increasing alarmingly. Dietary practices including massive amounts of white rice and added sugar have increase the prevalence of diabetes by over 50% in the last decade. It’s probably more but many cases are unreported in the poorer communities and the lack of hygiene and access to medical supervision means that many people suffer horrendous side effects of this disease, amongst others with little or no effective help.

At least in Westernised countries although the problem of diabetes is rampant there is more access to medical help. Add to that the huge number of people who smoke in Asia and you may begin to get some idea of how easy it is to fall prey to illnesses and their consequences.

My own journey towards being sugar free has caused me to radically alter the way I eat and the consequences are a vast improvement in my skin, a reduction in visible cellulite, some weight loss, albeit slow, a stabilising of my moods, an increase in joint mobility and less joint pain, an increased awareness of sugar additives, a rethink of the daily choices I make. My values have changed, my top priority is to be stable and non reactive rather than living my life on the wings of impulse and opportunistic behaviours. Now I am more careful in general and really happy that I have gone this route.

It is not possible to completely eliminate sugar, the gin and tonic I had a few nights ago and the incredible mango lassie (no added syrup or sugar) I had yesterday are happy additions to an other wise sugarless diet that includes fish, some red meat, vegetables, salads, occasional cooling fruits, a few low GI grains and the occasional treat, like my lassie. I look around me and see the mouths of people around me munching into surgery things and you know I have absolutely no desire to partake. I like who I have become in this change, I am steadier and more responsive to my immediate and long term needs, always with an eye to the consequences of my actions. The price I pay is to be out of chemical resonance with those around me and their plummeting and soaring sugar moods. I have been altered and the change is enlightening and so simple, my impulses are not my master and I can settle into the business of being humanly steady and present, walking without falling off the sugar free bandwagon.