Professor Graham MacGregor has founded the campaign group ‘Action on Sugar’ with the aim of achieving a 30% reduction in sugar in processed foods within 3 years. As a personal trainer in London who has seen over 12 years the effects of a high-sugar diet on new clients who come to me for help, I applaud his campaign and wish it every success.
Back in 1994, the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food & Nutrition Policy advised a 1/3 reduction in salt in processed foods. The then Conservative government at first approved the report, but when the food industry threatened to withdraw funding from the Conservative Party, the government did a quick U-turn and rejected the report.
Professor Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular disease at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, set up Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) in 2003, with the aim of achieving the 1/3 reduction in salt in our processed foods. By now, a Labour Government was in power, and they had great success in persuading the food industry to reduce the amount of salt added to processed foods.
Now the professor is keen to repeat this success with sugar. But he has 3 powerful opponents. First, the processed food industry, enormously wealthy and determined to deny any link between sugar and obesity.
The Food & Drink Federation says “sugars… consumed as part of a varied and balanced diet are not the cause of obesity.” This is of course complete nonsense. A diet high in processed food, and therefore high in sugar, is by definition not varied or balanced. And it is the number one cause of obesity.
Sugar is the food industry’s number one tool to keep consumption high and profits even higher. Sugar is a cheap additive, which keeps costs low. And sugar is addictive, which keeps consumption high among a growing army of sugar addicts.
The second powerful opponent to attempts to reduce sugar in processed foods is this Coalition government, or rather, the Conservative element. They always have and probably always will put big business and corporate profits ahead of our nation’s health.
The third and most numerous opponent to reductions in sugar in our processed food is a large section of the British public: the sugar addicts, and the haters of any government restrictions on their freedom (extreme libertarians). We live in a society where people want maximum freedom and human rights, but no personal responsibility. That’s why the NHS is so huge, and getting bigger every year, along with our waistlines.
There was an excellent Newsnight interview the other night. Jeremy Paxman was interviewing James Quincey of Coca-Cola, about the amount of sugar in this soft drink. A large cinema coke cup contains 44 sachets of sugar, and the medium-sized option contains 23 sachets of sugar. Check out the interview on YouTube, its’ worth a watch.
Here are some more examples of hidden sugar in processed foods:
Heinz Classic Tomato Soup: 4 teaspoons of sugar
Kelloggs Frosties: 4 teaspoons of sugar in 30g serving. A 30g serving is tiny, so imagine how much sugar is actually eaten in a big bowl of this breakfast cereal targeted at kids.
One of my personal training clients in north London used to drink coke, and now he drinks water instead. He used to eat Kelloggs Frosties (they taste greeeat!) and now eats Tesco Scottish Oats which are virtually sugar-free, and taste great too.
For more details about this issue, check out publications and interviews with the science director of Action on Sugar, Dr Aseem Malhotra.
Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London.