Sugar not fat is the bad guy

It was announced this week that the World Health Organisation is considering halving the amount of sugar that it recommends people should have in their diet and in the UK Action on Sugar has been set up, campaigning to reduce the amount of sugar added to food and soft drinks in an effort to tackle obesity and diabetes in the UK.

Anyone who knows anything about obesity, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s knows that sugar consumption is a major contributor. There is no ‘need’ for any refined sugar, so the WHO’s recommendation to have no more than 5% of calories from sugar is a very good idea if the goal is to reduce these endemic diseases.

The switch away from sucrose to cheaper corn-derived high fructose corn syrup, which more readily converts to fat, is clearly partly responsible for the health mess we are now in. We have been fructed – and the only way out is to get tough on sugar.

This also means making sugary foods less attractive through taxation and labeling. For example, a food with more than 5% of calories from sugar could be required to say ‘sugar is bad for your health’ much like cigarette packages were forced to do.

None of this will be commercially popular. Sugar is big business and the last time the WHO tried to limit sugar intake, the sugar industry in the US got the government to threaten withholding its funding.

But the tides are turning because governments can’t afford soaring health care costs. Nor will these kinds of policies be publicly popular because sugar, like cigarettes, is addictive.

How did we get into this mess?

In brief, in the 1950s the American physiologist Ancel Keys wrongly argued that fat was the cause of obesity, and governments backed the food industry’s move to towards low fat foods.

However even though America reduced fat intake from 43% to 34% of calories there was no significant change in rates of obesity. And up went the sugar content because food, without fat, doesn’t taste good.

In the US the average person now eats 90lbs of sugar a year, hidden in just about any food, but the biggest increase came from fizzy drinks, and also confectionary.

In Britain, from the 80’s we all started snacking on sweets. Sugar, originally derived from cane, was replaced by high fructose corn syrup, which was cheaper and sweeter. It also turns more readily into fat and triggers metabolic syndrome, which is the underlying shift in metabolism that brings on the pattern of ‘western’ diseases. And you eat more because it suppresses the action of leptin, a hormone that stops you eating. We got fatter and more used to sweet foods, which literally become addictive.

The average person is 3 stone (42lbs/20kg) heavier today than we were back in the 1960’s – and the finger is strongly pointed at sugar.

The trouble is that the sugar lobby is very strong indeed. While there is no doubt that high intake of sugar and refined carbs fuels diabetes, heart disease, weight gain and the many conditions associated with obesity, as I explain in the Low GL Diet Bible, the sugar industry fight back at every level to stop this message getting across loud and clear.

If the government, and its agencies really want to change health they are going to have to get really tough on sugar.

If you want to help yourself then the best diet to follow to reduce sugar cravings is my low GL diet. If you are addicted to sugar and what to cut down then read my advice here. You’ll see that the essential mineral chromium, 99% of which is removed in refining foods, really helps cut carb cravings.