Deliciously, fabulously villainous sugar.
It’s bad for us. We know it’s bad for us. But we love it anyway.
Some of us do our best to avoid it. And some of us dust ourselves in it and writhe gleefully under a full moon while committing acts of shameless carnality.
There’s a lot of bad press flying around about our little friend sugar.
I think the problem is not so much convincing the public that sugar is bad for them.
We know it’s naughty.
The problem is that most people have no idea just how much sugar is consumed in the average diet, nor how it acts once in the body. Be assured that having some chocolate or a cookie every now and then is not going to kill you. We need not fear that a little sugar will be lethal. Though there are some that would say otherwise. My aim is not to frighten you out of eating sugar – I love a sticky delight as much as the next guy..
The problem is, sugar is in EVERYTHING.
So when you have that delicious sweet treat after dinner you possibly aren’t aware of just how far you may be tipping the sugar scales on an average day.
According to The American Heart Association men should limit added sugar to 36 g, or 9 teaspoons per day and women should limit added sugar to 24 g, or 6 teaspoons per day.
The reason why I quote an American standard is because according to the Heart Foundation Australia the latest government recommendations here do not specify a daily limit for carbohydrate, sugar or added sugar intake.
So, back to the US recommendations – between 24 and 36 grams of added sugar, or 6-9 teaspoons.
Sounds like a lot.
Here is a nutritional composition label:
That’s one serve of apple juice.
And over 6 teaspoons of sugar. You haven’t added the sugar yourself, sure, but it’s hardly what you would call ‘naturally occurring’ either.
So if that’s one cup of apple juice, and there’s refined sugar in your breakfast cereal, in your toast, in your cup of tea or coffee, in your tomato sauce and in most pre-made or packaged food…
Then how bad can that little chocolate biscuit be?
Do the math. It takes us way beyond the daily recommendation.
It’s not sugar that’s killing us – it’s the dose that’s deadly.
According to well-known Australian nutritionist Catherine Saxelby, Australians consume, on average some 31 teaspoons of sugar (both added and natural) each day. Because we may not add a lot of sugar to our foods and drinks, most of us are unaware of how much sugar we are actually consuming.
Of the total we eat, 75 percent comes from packaged and pre-prepared foods and drinks.
Now that’s a lot of sugar. If you spooned out 31 teaspoons of sugar it would look like this:
The other fact that bares consideration is that refined sugar is the form of sugar that is commonly added to packaged and processed food and drink. Not raw sugar and not naturally occurring sugars. Refined sugar is a known toxin and a highly addictive substance. It was classified as a poison back in 1957 by Dr. William Coda Martin. For more info read this great article.
I’m loathe to jump on the ‘sugar is evil’ bandwagon but the mounting evidence linking our current consumption of refined sugar to the epidemic of ‘diabesity’, as it is coined in some circles, is compelling.
I don’t need to show you the frightening stats about the rates of both adult and childhood obesity in Australia – look around. We are, beyond a doubt, fatter than ever.
My inquiry into the link between sugar intake and obesity began by reading a fascinating book I chanced upon called ‘Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It.’, by veteran science writer Gary Taubes. Taubes is all about the science. He’s not a proponent of one diet or another. His book simply delves into the science, the physics and the facts about what literally causes us humans to gain and store fat at an unnatural rate.
And I can’t write a piece about sugar without mentioning Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco. Lustig is one of the leading experts on childhood obesity, and has been a pioneer in decoding sugar metabolism. Back in 2009 he posted a controversial lecture online called, ‘Sugar: The Bitter Truth” – it went viral and has been watched by over 2.9 million viewers to date. It is a compelling talk if you have a spare hour and a half. If you don’t, you can watch one of my favourite people in the world – Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness, explain it all in 11 minutes. It’s enlightening stuff.
Back to our friend Gary Taubes who also wrote an article published in June 2012 in the New York Times which provides a detailed summary of the latest research into sugar and obesity released in the Journal of the American Medical Association as well as summarising many of the key points in his book. Put simply, Taubes explains why it is now known that ‘all calories are not equal’. Different calories create different metabolic reactions in the body. Yes.
Some calories make us fatter than others.
Namely carbohydrates. Also known as sugar. Particularly the refined type.
Refined sugar not only has no nutritional value but it is now known that excesses of sugar produce hormones and chemicals that block receptors in our brains that tell us when we’re full – resulting in a seemingly insatiable appetite. Also, sugar increases our insulin levels which works by telling the body to store away more fat.
High carbohydrate and ‘low fat’ (aka ‘high sugar’) diets are what research now indicates makes us fat. Ironically these are the very same diets currently recommended by the Australian Diabetes Council (ADC) and a number of other organisations dedicated to advising the public about nutrition and wellbeing.
In fact, if you look carefully at this Healthy Food Choices document provided by the ADC you can see for yourself that eating a diet very high in carbohydrates is recommended for those with diabetes – with Wonderwhite bread (TM) given a special mention and artificial sweeteners listed such as aspartame (a known toxin and carcinogen) also given the thumbs up. Bread is recommended as an option with every meal. Cereal, pasta, potato and rice are the main components of the daily diet. Apparently people with diabetes are also training to be elite athletes. Approved snacks include low fat yogurt and more bread.
And what does low fat mean?
Higher sugar, more chemicals, more numbers and more nastiness.
How much sugar is in a single serving of diet yogurt? Let’s look at another nutrition fact label:
A single serving of low-fat yogurt equates to the total avarage recommended added daily intake of sugar for a woman (it’s slightly higher for men). What does excess sugar/energy get stored as in the body? Fat. What happens when we have a diet too high in carbohydrates? We get fat. We either train like we’re heading for Rio 2016 – or we get fat.
You can read between the lines here. Clearly the Australian public is being given poor, outdated nutritional advice by a highly respected institution apparently supporting people to make healthy choices and manage disease.
The Australian Heart Foundation contends that there is no scienific consensus that sugar as a nutrient causes heart disease while suggesting sensibly avoiding processed sweets.
But if we know that sugar creates the perfect metabolic storm for obesity to develop and obesity causes heart disease then…well, surely two and two can be put together. I guess it comes down to the definition of sugar as a ‘nutrient’. Refined sugar has no nutrient value at all, but we do need a certain amount of healthy carbohydrates for energy. However I’m dismayed at how often highly processed cereals, grains, bread and pasta are indicated as constituting the main portion of a balanced diet. This is just not the case. We need less processed food in packaging, not more. Processed carbs are not healthy carbs.
I answer the Heart Foundation’s claim that there is no scientific link between sugar as a ‘nutrient’ and heart disease with a now-famous paper by Nancy Appleton PhD, ‘141 Reasons Why Sugar Ruins Your Health’. If there is no science to link sugar to heart disease, I wonder how Nancy Appleton managed to find credible medical sources for each and every point in this paper. Before we’ve even got to number 40 we find:
9. Sugar can produce a significant rise in Triglycerides (scientifically proven to be linked to heart disease).
11. Sugar causes a decline in tissue elasticity and function – the more sugar you eat, the more elasticity and function you lose, (=hardened cell walls, arteries, veins etc).
27. Sugar can lead to obesity (we know). (Obesity = heart disease.)
34. Sugar can cause heart disease.
Reference for the skeptics: 34. Yudkin, J. “Sugar Consumption and Myocardial Infarction.” Lancet. Feb 6, 1971; 1(7693): 296-297.
And there’s still 101 to go.
In some ways writing this piece feels like falling down a rabbit-hole. It could easily turn into a veritable maze of hidey holes, links, articles, witch hunts and a whole lotta dodgy nutrition advice.
One thing I’ve just found out is that the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia - who are the sole body responsible for our National Dietary Guidleines – are now in the process of reviewing them. The new guidelines are set to be available in 2013.
The previous review took place in 2003.
This could go some way to explaining why our current advice regarding nutrition is hardly cutting-edge. What new research the US uncovers now takes years, yes, years to trickle down into the wary, lamington-loving consciousness of the Australian food psyche.
The revised Australian guidelines will be published here at eatforhealth.gov.au.
There is one thing I noted at the above link that looked encouraging. It states that part of the reason for the review (ten years on) is that the evidence base has strengthened for the association between the consumption of sugar sweetened drinks and the risk of excessive weight gain in both children and adults. So by 2013 it looks like we may have caught up with what has been clearly evidenced for decades.
There was also something less encouraging…
It also states that the evidence base has strengthened for the association between the consumption of milk and decreased risk of heart disease and some cancer.
Come visit me here for the skinny on milk.
And just another little tunnel in the warren..
According to innovation.gov.au, the four biggest grossing food production industries in Australia are sugar & confectionery, beverage & malt manufacturing, meat and dairy.
Sugar, beer, meat and dairy.
We are truly the lucky country.
Australia. You’ve come a long way since damper and drippings, chops and mash, meat and pie…even so, the stats aren’t looking good. We’re in trouble and we know it. Just four days ago on 29.10.12, the Sydney Morning Herald published an article revealing that our nation’s weight has bulged over the past four years, with 63% of people now classified as obese. That’s one for every three.
Funnily enough, we were thinner when we were eating damper and drippings.
But I digress.
Like I said, it’s a rabbit-hole.
Please feel free to use any of the great links I’ve provided to research further and form your own conclusions.
Too much sugar = bad.
Little bit of sugar = necessary to stop you from clawing out your own eyes and punching irritating colleagues and bad drivers in the throat.
Let’s face it – sugar is just wonderfully legal crack.
The side-effects are about the same. Apparently the withdrawal effects are worse.
Thanks for reading – I love that you made it this far.