We’re still expected to make a ‘healthy’ choice even though 3 out of 4 supermarket foods contain added sugar. But what recent encounter left me speechless? Our food landscape has changed, we’re being told not to worry, but when it comes to our health I honestly think the wool is being pulled over our eyes.
the shocking customer
It doesn’t often happen that I’m lost for words.
A customer had requested organic sugar, ‘the best kind’. He seemed dubious about coconut sugar as an alternative, and insisted on cane sugar. On questioning, he indicated he needed it for his 2 month-old-baby. Baby S was lethargic in the hot weather and didn’t seem to like the taste of water, so he planned to sweeten the drinking water, to improve the taste and give baby a bit of pep.
So far so dire.
However, words failed me when he revealed he had been given this crap advice by his GP, a trained healthcare professional, in a position of power and trust!
How can this even happen?
Open any newspaper and you’ll find headlines shrieking about the rise in cases of diabetes, heart disease and obesity in adults; that more young children are classified overweight and obese than ever before, particularly in socially deprived boroughs. Right now, a new campaign from Public Health England is encouraging parents to reduce the amount of sugar in their children’s diets, by limiting the quantity and calorie content of their daily snacks.
Surely any trained professional would be aware of the link between sugar and our long-term health?
Sadly this does’t seem to be the case. Instead, scratch the surface and you’ll find a shameful combination of misdirection, wilful ignorance, and profiteering, all hidden under a layer of fake concern for the individual’s health. The health management message has been seriously skewed and it starts from the government, down. So when it comes to the BIG 3 – that’s diabetes, obesity and heart disease – I think the wool has been pulled over our eyes.
Over-dramatisation? Hysteria? I honestly think not. Here’s why.
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the happy brain
The simple truth is that humans really LIKE sugar, we’re just hard wired that way. Eating sugar lights up reward pathways in the brain, releasing brain chemicals like dopamine that make us feel REALLY GOOD. We never get tired of doing this, so no matter how much sugar we eat, it always tastes good, and we always want more.
Another truth is that sugar makes foods more palatable. This idea was eagerly seized by the food industry back in the 70’s. The health message at the time was that fat makes you fat, so low-fat foods were a healthier option. But, removing fat removes flavour. Sugar saved the day. A cheap option, it was added to many ‘diet’ foods, and stealthily crept on to our plates, in both sweet and savoury dishes.
Then came the advertising industry, whispering and inviting us to consume sweetened products and ‘Taste the Feeling’, ‘Have a Break’, to help us ‘Work, rest and play’, or simply because ‘They’re Grrreat’.
the consumer’s challenge
Fast forward to 2018 and added sugar is everywhere. Not just in soft drinks, chocolate bars, cereals, cakes and ice creams, but in salad dressings, bread, sauces, yogurt, juice drinks, and meat products too. At first this might seem pretty harmless. ‘Yes, sweet foods are nice, but I don’t eat that many biscuits, and I don’t put sugar in my tea’, you say. But unless you stop and read every label, chances are a lot of the foods you consume contain added sugar, and you’ll be subject to a constant drip-feed throughout the day. Then add in the naturally-occuring sugar (from juices or dried fruit) and your intake is pushed even higher.
In fact, in 2012, Barry Popkin of UNC reported that 74% of the 600,000 supermarket products available in the US contained some form of added sugar.
So out of every 4 food items in the typical shop, 3 will contain added sugar, and only 1 won’t.
So why am I feeling so peeved?
the dodgy health message
Because while there are more and more studies linking a high sugar intake with negative health outcomes, the message hasn’t changed.
- Eat a low-fat diet for weight loss – So, eating any type of fat makes you fat.
- All calories are equal – It doesn’t make any difference if you eat 1000 calories of spinach or 1000 calories of biscuits.
- Weight maintenance is achieved by balancing energy intake and energy expenditure – If you exercise more and eat less you will lose weight.
This is clearly not the case.
one man’s shocking results
Consider, Damon Gameau who switched from a no-refined sugar diet (which he had eaten for three years, initially to impress his wife-to be!!) to a high-sugar diet.
He swapped his high-fat (50%), high-protein (26%), no-refined-carbohydrate diet (24%), for an average healthy low-fat diet, which supplied the 40tsps of sugar most Australians eat each day. Importantly his energy intake remained the same (2300kCal). He didn’t consume any soft drinks, sweets, ice creams or cookies. Instead iced teas, smoothies, juices, yogurts, breakfast cereals, dried fruit and low-fat ‘healthy options’ were all on his shopping list. He also continued to do the same amount of exercise.
In 2 months he gained 10cm around his waist, increasing from 84cm to 94cm. His weight increased by 8.5kg, (from 76kg to 84.5kg), and total body fat by 7%. Liver enzymes and blood triglycerides increased, indicating elevated risk of fatty liver disease and heart disease. He also perceived negative changes in his mood and cognitive function.
- he was eating a low-fat, ‘healthy’ diet.
- he had maintained his calorie intake.
- he was doing the same amount of exercise as normal.
You might think, one man does not indicate a global trend, but here’s the thing.
the current guidelines
The World Health Organisation’s published recommendations on sugar intake for adults and children, strongly recommends ‘reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake’. So the average woman eating 2000kCal a day could allow 200kCal to come from free sugars.
With a 4.2g teaspoon of sugar containing 16kCal, you could eat up to12.5tsps (52.5g) of ADDED SUGAR each day.
Next you check the RI and see a recommendation to eat no more than 90g of sugar each day – so your foods should provide 21tsps (90g of) ADDED + NATURALLY-OCCURRING SUGAR each day.
the everyday reality
You eat a small pot of Muller Light low-fat fruit yogurt (12.4g sugar = 2.9tsp), drink a 200ml glass of Innocent orange juice (15.6g sugar = 3.7tsp), and eat a bowl of Jordan’s oat granola (10g sugar = 2.3tsp). You finish off with a coffee (1tsp sugar). 3 out of these 4 foods have added sugar. You’ll have already eaten 6tsp of added sugar, or 10tsps of total sugars, before you head out the door.
You’ve used half your daily allowance.
Alternatively you might check out the food labels.
Can you tell the difference between ‘added sugar’ and ‘naturally occurring’ sugar from this yogurt label?
I know I can’t.
You can check out the infographic to see
HOW MUCH SUGAR WE REALLY EAT. (Prepare for a shock!)
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I think healthwise we’re struggling, and an important reason why is because we’re being encouraged to choose from really limited options. Our reality is coated in a fine layer of sugar, and we’re being told not to worry, that nothing has changed.
We’re told by Government that no wants a nanny state, and that we’re responsible for choosing what we eat, so there shouldn’t be any regulation on the amount of added sugar in our foods. But in the same instance, food labels are murky (you’ll find values for ‘carbohydrate content’, ‘sugar content’, but not ‘added sugar’) making it harder to be informed.
Yes, small improvements have been made with the recently introduced sugar tax on soft drinks.
No doubt, hands were rubbed together imagining all the money to be raised, which would be invested in new health drives to fight the tidal wave of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Did this happen? Of course not. Most soda companies cut the sugar-content of their drinks to fall just below the threshold, ‘because that’s what consumers are demanding’. What convenient timing.
But, honestly, this isn’t a rant against soda. Remember, 3 out of every 4 items in the supermarket contain some form of added sugar.
Imagine you go to a toyshop.
There are four mystery products to choose from. Each promises absolute customer satisfaction: 100% more WHIZZ; ADDED POP; 10 TIMES THE BANGGG!!, or EXTRA BOUNCE they gleefully declare. They certainly sound safe yet exciting – exactly what you’re looking for. Although you don’t know this, inside you’ll find a circular saw, a loaded gun, a lit firework, or a rubber ball.
Go ahead, pick one.
the positive step
Are you feeling ready to DO SOMETHING? Check out Damon Gameau’s documentary: