Sugar – not so sweet

sugarSugar’s been compared with cocaine and smoking, and was said by Amsterdam’s head of health services to be ‘addictive and the most dangerous drug of the times’. Strong stuff, but how much validity is there in this argument?

Some sugar facts:

•    In the US 100 years ago each person consumed around 12lbs of sugar a year.
•    Now on average each person consumes 168lbs of sugar a year.
•    Too much sugar decreases the body’s ability to fight infection by 30 per cent.
•    The increase in consumption of fizzy drinks in the UK over the past 15 years is 100% (Food Standards Agency).
•    The average person in the UK now consumes 20 teaspoonfuls of sugar a day. (NHS)
•    One quarter of adults in the UK are now obese (NHS).
•    It is predicted that by 2030 there will be  26 million obese people in the UK.

 
‘Anyone who knows anything about obesity, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s knows that sugar consumption is a major contributor,’  Patrick Holford, leading nutritionist and author claims.  ‘There is no ‘need’ for any refined sugar, so the WHO’s recommendation to have no more than 5 per cent of calories from sugar is a very good idea if the goal is to reduce these endemic diseases. The switch away from sucrose to cheaper corn-derived high fructose corn syrup, which more readily converts to fat, is clearly part responsible for the health mess we are now in.

‘We need to get tough on sugar,’ he continues. This also means making sugary foods less attractive through taxation and labelling. For example, a food with more than 5 per cent of calories from sugar could be required to say “sugar is bad for your health” much like cigarette packs were forced to do. None of this will be commercially popular. Sugar is big business and the last time the WHO tried to limit sugar intake the sugar industry in the US got the government to threaten withholding funding to the WHO. But the tides are turning because governments can’t afford the soaring health care costs. Nor will these kind of policies be publicly popular because sugar, like cigarettes, is addictive.’

Much of the blame is obviously down to eating too much chocolate,  too many cakes, sweets, desserts, biscuits, and colas and/or putting teaspoonfuls into tea and coffee. However the latest campaign against sugar is aimed at getting manufacturers to reduce or cut out  the amount of sugar they put in processed food.
What a con to label products as ‘low fat’ and then bung in five or six teaspoonfuls of sugar – a particular problem with ‘low fat’  yogurts.  Would you expect baked beans, spaghetti hoops, tomato ketchup or stir fry sauces to be laced with sugar too, and why?  Because it’s addictive and we just keep buying more and more, and the companies make lots of profits – that’s probably why.

 
The World Health Organisation (WHO) wants to cut the recommended sugar intake by half. This includes all sugars “added to foods by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices”.   And Action On Sugar www.actiononsugar.org  is a public health campaign aimed at making the public more aware of sugar, so that they can avoid products that are full of hidden sugars. Children are a particularly vulnerable group targeted by the food industry who are keen to market calorie dense snacks and sugar-sweetened soft drinks to them, with great success.

So what are the health problems? 

Too much sugar lowers the immune system, interferes with blood sugar levels, makes us put on weight, and can cause diabetes.  ‘The more sweet foods we eat the more glucose we have in our blood, which must be removed by the body quickly,’ claims Patrick Holford, leading nutritionist and author.  ‘Therefore we produce more and more insulin to remove the glucose, which is far more than we need to power the body. What we don’t need gets converted and stored as fat.  When we run out of insulin we become diabetic. Once a person becomes obese their risk of diabetes becomes 77 times higher,’ according to Patrick.
Experts say that part of the problem is that sugary foods and drinks are now staples in many people’s diet instead of an occasional treat, and the need to reverse this trend is greater than ever.

What alternatives are there to sugar?

•    Agave – a syrup made from the agave plant from Mexico, which has fewer calories than sugar, is very tasty, but is high in fructose;
•    Stevia (available as Truvia and Natvia) which is from the leaves of the stevia plant in south America and is said to A herb used for centuries in its native South America. It’s calorie free and much sweeter than sugar;
•    Honey is as sweet as sugar, and has plenty of health benefits as it contains vitamins and minerals and is anti-bacterial (manuka honey is even better), but puts on the calories.

There are various other sweeteners that are natural and better than sugar, but the artificial sweeteners that are made in factories often carry side-effects to health (naming no names).  This month we have two copies of the e-Book: the Chocolate Cookbook, full of recipes for fructose-free cakes, fudges, brownies, smoothies, cheesecakes, mousses and ice-creams, to be won.  Go to: www.healthysoul.co.uk

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