Last night’s Dispatches on Channel 4 (Monday 20th January 2014) was “Are You Addicted to Sugar?” The creepiest things about this documentary were the huge amounts of sugar in processed foods, and the sheer power of the sugar industry to shape public policy.
As a personal trainer for 12 years, I’ve been advising my clients to reduce their sugar intake in order to lose excess weight, and reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes. I advise my clients to stop drinking so-called ‘energy drinks’ and sugary soft drinks, ready meals, and junk food, all of which are crammed with sugar.
As the documentary spelt out, sugar is in almost all our processed foods. It’s been known for decades that sugar is very harmful to the body, but the sugar industry has been very successful in its attempts to silence this health warning.
Just how much sugar do we consume as a nation? The average UK adult consumes 36 kg of sugar a year, and some consume a lot more than this. I wonder if the ones with the highest sugar consumption are the most obese?! The sugar industry would deny this.
Ever since fat was identified as the number one cause of obesity, the food industry has been replacing fats with sugar (and salt) to make it tasty and addictive. In the documentary, registered nutritionist Katherine Jenner spelt out just how much sugar was in certain products. One brand of low fat flavoured yoghurt contained 14 teaspoons of sugar, and one children’s breakfast cereal contained 23 g of sugar in one 45 g serving.
The food industry is particularly keen to get kids hooked on sugar at an early age. I read in one book on obesity that there are high levels of sugar in some baby foods. My suspicion is that the food industry is very cunning in its long term planning, to produce a nation hooked on sugar from the cradle to an early grave.
The government recommends that adult men consume less than 64 g of sugar per day (that’s 16 teaspoons), and for women & children, less than 50g sugar/day (12 teaspoons). I think this is still too high a rate of sugar consumption, and I agree with the World Health Organisation which recommends a halving of these figures.
One of my personal training clients in Chelsea asked me if brown wholemeal bread was sugar-free. Some brands have very high sugar content, so it’s worth reading the label. I eat a lot less bread than I used to, and feel better for it.
Professor Robert Lustig
A leading authority on sugar, Professor Robert Lustig is a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, USA. He probably knows more about sugar and its damaging effects than anyone else on the planet. Emphatic that excess sugar causes type 2 diabetes, he says that this chronic disease is “breaking the bank of every healthcare system round the world” and that it’s a “public health crisis”.
The Sugar Lobby
The sugar industry is a £50 billion a year industry, so it has the financial muscle to threaten and bully any organisation which suggests that sugar is damaging to human health. It has also managed to infiltrate government advisory panels all over the world.
The World Sugar Research Organisation, based in London UK, dismisses the World Health Organisation’s reports on sugar as “not based on reliable evidence”. The WSRO website states “extensive research has failed to link consumption of sugar to any chronic disease except tooth decay.”
The documentary pointed out that the food industry funds many scientific research projects, and that research funded by the food industry is 7 times more likely to be favourable to sugar than research funded from other sources.
Type 2 diabetes
The evidence that excessive sugar consumption increases your risk of type 2 diabetes is overwhelming. 3.5 million people in the UK have it, and it costs the NHS over £7 billion a year, predicted to rise to £15 billion by 2035.
Dr Mike Rayner, Director of Health Promotion at Oxford University, has been campaigning for a sugar tax for over 3 years. His main concern is sugary drinks, the number one source of sugar consumed, compared to any other processed food/drink. He predicts that a 20% tax would lead to a 20% drop in consumption, which in turn would reduce overweight/obesity by 300,000 people.
Mexico has just introduced a sugar tax, and he says that it is only a matter of time before one is introduced in the UK. I think it’s long overdue, but there’s little chance of it coming into effect as long as the sugar lobby has such a powerful grip on our politicians.
Professor Philip James
Prof. Philip James is a leading figure in nutrition and health, and chairs the International Obesity Taskforce. He says “the evidence is now powerful that we should reduce sugar consumption to prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes”. He wrote the last WHO report on sugar, which the sugar lobby tried so hard to discredit.
Junk food lobby in the USA
Just as ‘big tobacco’ managed to fend off regulation for decades after the evidence became conclusive that smoking caused lung cancer, the junk food giants are fighting hard to protect their own lucrative industry.
In the States, there is a particularly insidious advert run by the Center for Consumer Freedom, which shows a child in distress when a big hand viciously swipes his ice cream away, and the voiceover says “Do you feel like you’re being told what not to do?” and talks about “food bullies” violating our freedoms.
What about the freedom of kids to grow up fit and healthy?
UK Sugar Report coming soon
The first major report on sugar in the UK for 20 years (its a scandal that it’s taken so long) is being worked on by the Carbohydrate Group of the Scientific Advisory Commission on Nutrition. More than half the advisors are funded by the food industry. The chair of the report, Professor Ian MacDonald, receives funding from Coca-Cola. The Department of Health sees no problem with this conflict of interest.
It’s a shame that the documentary didn’t explain in more detail the harm sugar does to the human body. It is an ‘anti-nutrient’, not only is is devoid of micro-nutrients but it leeches vitamins and minerals from the body in order to process it. Sugar causes a radical insulin reaction, which over time increases your risk of type 2 diabetes. And sugar is a major cause of obesity. In short, sugar is a toxin.
I continue to advise my personal training clients in London to cut as much sugar from their diet as possible, if they’re serious about their health and fitness.
Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London.