n4 nutrition

Sugar is not the enemy!

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Diabetes, Diets, General Nutrition, Weight - Body Shape and Composition, Healthy Eating
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Three US scientists from the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) have set out their views on sugar in the science journal Nature making headlines around the world and locally in Australia. They argue that at levels consumed in the west, sugar is indirectly responsible for 35 million annual deaths worldwide due to lifestyle-related conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

But is sugar so evil that it needs to be regulated like alcohol and tobacco?

To date there is no conclusive evidence that consumption of sugar or sugar sweetened beverages is uniquely contributing to the obesity epidemic or that reducing consumption will result in general weight loss. This has been shown time after time in randomised control trials (the ‘gold standard’ in research) and in meta analyses of randomised control trials.

Lets take a look at the “Australian paradox” – the term for the conundrum by which we have decreased our sugar consumption but the prevalence of obesity continues to rise. Refined sugar intake has been falling since 1970 in Australia and now makes up 10-12% of total energy intake – a figure considered acceptable by most experts. The 2007 Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey also found that children are drinking less soft drink than they were in 1995. At the same time, there has been a 3-fold increase in the prevalence of obesity among adults and children in Australia. So can we really lay the blame solely on sugar for our increasing weight problem?

In addition, researchers and scientists today no longer believe that sugar in food is the cause of type 2 diabetes. Many starchy foods such as potatoes, rice and bread will produce higher blood glucose levels than sugar and we eat twice as much starch as we do sugar. Sugary foods produce more moderate effects on blood glucose levels and diets that are high in sugars have been found to have a lower overall ‘glycemic index’ (GI). We must not forget that lifestyle factors such as a lack of exercise or being overweight also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

A lower sugar intake is also associated with a higher intake of fat, a phenomenon known as the ‘sugar-fat seesaw’. Most high sugar diets are low in fat and vice versa. If you limit added sugars in the diet, they are usually replaced with undesirable nutrients such as saturated fat and high GI starches. Saturated fat intake is of far greater concern for those with diabetes than sugar intake.

Sugar is not the enemy. Diets containing a moderate amount of sugar have been found to include higher levels of micronutrients than low sugar diets. These news stories divert attention away from the more important health messages such as increasing physical activity and reducing our overall kJ consumption. We need to address the overconsumption of energy relative to our needs if we are to halt the obesity epidemic. An inappropriately high intake of any energy source will result in weight gain! 

Author: Emily Greenfield


References and further reading

Glossary

Kilojoule (kJ): is a unit of energy formerly known as Calorie (Cals). 1 calorie equals 4.2 kilojoules

Glycemic index (GI):  The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Low-GI foods, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have proven benefits for health.Source: Glycemic Index – making healthy choices easy

Sugar is not the enemy!