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Sugar: the Sweetest Poison

The World Health Organization (WHO) have stated that no more than 10% of a person’s calories should come from sugar and in a radical move, they have suggested further slashing the allowance to only 5%, or around six teaspoons of sugar per adult person, per day. The reason for this is because while saturated fat gets a lot of recognition as a cause of heart disease and is blamed for the western epidemic of obesity, sugar may be equally, or even more to blame.

Worldwide, 36 million people die of non-communicable (non-infectious, chronic) diseases. Some of those deaths are related to sugar. An increasing library of scientific evidence has linked sugar intake to caries, obesity and even cardiovascular diseases. The evidence is clear: there is a direct association between sugar intake and death due to cardiovascular disease. As scientific and public knowledge on the effects of sugar increased, this led WHO to reconsider their recommendation for the amount of sugar that people should consume.

Is Sugar the ‘New Tobacco’?

Previously thought of as an innoxiously sweet indulgence, some people are now asking whether in fact it is ‘the new tobacco’. Cigarettes were once considered a harmless pleasure and medical journals even carried advertisements for brands of cigarette with doctor’s endorsements or claims that they can cure a sore throat before the overwhelming array of research led to the unmistakable conclusion that cigarettes kill.

WHO experts say that together with high salt intake, not enough fruit and vegetables and lack of physical exercise, sugar is one of the main health risks and could become the ‘new tobacco’ because of its adverse impact on public health.

Over-Dosing on Sugar

The human body needs sugar for survival. In its natural form, in fruits, grains and other wholefoods, sugar is a carbohydrate and provides us with energy. If people obtained all of their sugar from natural food sources they would not experience the problems that come from consuming refined sugar. It is the fact that we add highly refined sugar to nearly all of our food items that has caused a sea of chronic health conditions throughout the world.

In 1700, the average English person consumed four pounds of sugar per year. By 1800 this had increased to 18 pounds. In 1870 this had leaped again to 47 pounds, by 1900 it was 100 pounds every single year. In America today, the average amount of sugar consumption is 165 pounds per person – or 31 five pound bags of sugar for each person annually.

You may have the idea to cut out sugar from your coffee and say no to those tempting cakes, but skipping dessert won’t be enough to remove refined sugar completely from your diet. As WHO discussed, sugar is in everything we eat. The majority of people now rely, at least in part, on mass produced, pre-prepared foods from supermarkets rather than preparing their own foods and most don’t check the labels.

Sugar is added to soft drinks, breakfast cereals (many of which are ‘junk’ with fortified vitamins added in to give them nutritional value), sweetened yogurts, condiments such as ketchup, salad dressing or meat marinade, some brands of cracker, peanut butter, fruit jelly, soups and canned fruit and vegetables, to name a few. Added sugar is present in many savoury items that are assumed to be healthy – items that consumers may believe don’t contain sugar. Reducing your sugar intake to levels that WHO deem safe is much more than avoiding cookies and sweets, you would need to go back to basics and cook most of your foods using your own ingredients so that you would know exactly how much sugar was in your diet. As this in impractical for a lot of people, WHO officials know that their recommendations are controversial because they would involve placing limits on the amount of sugar manufacturers could add to food and measures such as taxing soda and fruit squash, to make them less attractive to consumers.

Food manufacturers and the sugar industry have been resistant to this. In fact, when WHO originally decided upon a 10% limit for the number of calories that could come from sugar, the sugar industry reacted angrily, putting pressure on the US government to end WHO’s funding unless it scrapped its guidelines on nutrition and claiming that a quarter of the diet could consist of sugar. The association and 300 food companies including Coca-Cola lobbied the government and asked the US Health Secretary to use his inside influence to withdraw the WHO report. WHO regarded this behavior as blackmail. This certainly wasn’t the first time a manufacturing industry employed strong-arm tactics to try to prevent public health messages being released if they would limit their business. The tobacco industry used similar tactics when lung cancer was first discovered to be connected to smoking.

What Problems Can Sugar Cause?

Refined sugar puts pressure on the pancreas and adrenal glands as they try to keep your blood sugar at a healthy level. After you eat sugar, it converts to glucose in your bloodstream. The pancreas then reacts by making insulin (whose function it is to transport glucose to your cells so they can use it for energy). However, if there is a rapid rise in insulin, this can cause blood sugar to drop and results in the adrenals producing cortisone to level out the blood sugar. These fluctuating blood sugar levels can cause diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome and early menopause. Since cortisone is a stress hormone, its production can have an adverse effect on your body. It has a steroid effect and can suppress your immune system and put you at heightened risk of infections, colds, flu and chronic illnesses.

Sugar doesn’t contain nutrients so it doesn’t benefit your body nutritionally and through its metabolism, you actually use up your vitamin stores. A sugar laden diet can actually cause vitamin deficiencies and give you an increased risk of asthma, depression and even behavioral problems like a tendency towards violence or ADHD. Sugar may be a major reason why an increasing number of children are being diagnosed with asthma and ADHD and why many children cannot concentrate on their studies and act disruptively towards adults who are trying to care for them.

The British Medical Journal also says that it isn’t saturated fats that are causing heart disease and obesity. Since government advice recommending a low fat, high carbohydrate diet, the obesity crisis has reached pandemic levels. The true culprit of obesity is sugar.

The US Must Not Follow The UK in Not Heeding Advice

Despite the known serious diseases caused by consuming too much sugar, the UK has chosen not to heed WHO’s advice to cut sugar consumption by half. The UK Committee on Nutrition has eight panel members, five of which have ties to the ‘junk’ food industry. Professor Ian MacDonald, a nutritionist and member of the panel, has worked for Coca-Cola and Mars chocolate. It may be up to the discerning customer to be vigilant about what they put into their bodies and be pro-active rather than waiting for authorities to protect the health interests of its citizens.

Sources:

WHO-RUSH Food Safety Sugar Consumption 05Mar 2014

British Medical Journal, Observation: Saturated Fat is not the Major Issue, October 22nd 2013

Am J Clin Nutr March 2010 vol. 91 no. 3 535-546

Dr. Carolyn Dean, MD, ND. The Scary Truth about Sugar

National Geographic: Sugar Love, the Not so Sweet Story

Medicine Net: The Hidden Ingredient that can Sabotage Your Diet

Britain will not Act on Sugar Advice, The Telegraph, 9th March 2014

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