You might have followed all the chatter yesterday – sugar as toxic as alcohol…should be banned…oh, hang on, no, it’s harmless. Etc. Etc. Wendy Harmer buzzed and asked me to provide this comment for TheHoopla. I’d spent the day chatting about it today on radio (and I think I shocked a few jocks into putting down their Boost).
Thought you might like to read my thoughts…
It’s a year to the week that I quit sugar.
And because I’m about to bang on about the need for more transparency in this world, some disclosure: I wrote an ebook about it. So it could be said I have a vested interest in this topic.
Anyone who’s quit sugar would know what I mean when I say that the most challenging-slash-intriguing part of quitting is The Resistance. People get affronted. Angry.
It’s funny. If I told people I no longer ate frozen peas, no-one would care. I wouldn’t get the outrage. The anger.
But sugar? Well…
Earlier today it was revealed a team of scientists from the University of California has called for sugar to be treated as a poison, in much the same ways as alcohol and nicotine. They’ve suggested sugar, too, be taxed heavily and come with warnings, better labelling and education campaigns.
In an article published in science journal Nature they argued sugar isn’t just a bunch of naughty, empty calories. It’s making us fat and killing us. Sugary food, they say, is responsible for 35 million annual deaths worldwide.
They point out that, at the levels consumed in the West, sugar alters metabolism, raises blood pressure, disrupts hormone signalling and causes significant damage to the liver that is still not fully understood, leading to heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
And boy has it brought on The Resistance. Today I’ve watched online as nutrition experts around the world railed against the idea.
But why? I mean. Why?!
Surely none of them think sugar is good for us? Or would disagree with the claim that we’re consuming too much of it? Why not push for better labelling?
As one of the article’s authors said, “We’re not talking prohibition. We’re not advocating a major imposition of the Government into people’s lives. We’re talking about gentle ways to make sugar consumption slightly less convenient, thereby moving people away from the concentrated dose.”
Some of these experts are arguing sugar is entirely avoidable. No it’s not!
Have you been to a supermarket or food court lately? Sugar’s in everything, and insidiously so. It’s so well hidden it shocks when I tell people that barbecue sauce is 50 percent sugar, that pasta sauces can contain more sugar than chocolate topping.
That low-fat tub of yoghurt with “no added sugar” walloped on the front? It contains six teaspoons of the stuff.
A 350ml juice can be festooned with “no added sugar” labels. But if you know how to read the label with the small writing on the back you learn this: it contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, as much as a can of Coke.
I’ve heard this one, too: but sugar is natural! To which, I say: so is arsenic and petroleum.
But we’re meant to eat it… we need it… it’s dangerous to cut it out! Actually, no. Sugar didn’t exist when we evolved as humans and so we don’t have the metabolism to deal with it. When we eat it, our body freaks and turns it immediately to fat, thus wreaking metabolic havoc.
Plus it’s the only foodstuff to which we do not have a corresponding hormone that recognises it in our bodies (more proof we weren’t designed to eat it). If our bodies don’t recognise it, we have no “sugar off switch”. Ergo, we keep eating it. And eating it.
Moderation is key, say others. Impossible in the case of sugar. Two major studies have shown it’s as addictive as cocaine. And, as I say, we binge on it. Me, I can’t eat just one TimTam. You?
But warnings? Really? I’d say sugar needs them more than any other toxin on the planet.
I was talking to David Gillespie, author of Sweet Poison about this last night. He made this stellar point: we know when we’re drinking booze or smoking nicotine; they’re not hidden. With sugar you never know when you’re eating it.
But there’s no science to back all this baloney up! Really?
I should point out the team behind the report includes Professors Robert Lustig, a highly regarded endocrinologist and arguably the world’s leading expert in childhood obesity and whose work I’ve followed for several years. His lecture “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” has developed a cult-like following on YouTube. (Brace yourself – it groans with scientific proof. For a more digestible overview check out New York Times science writer Gary Taubes’ essay Is Sugar Toxic).
Lustig knows The Resistance all too well and has been working for years now to gather conclusive proof to the claims published today.
But the more interesting question here is, why would anyone resist the article’s suggestions? I’m not going to wade too far into the trenches. Frankly, I don’t have a big enough bank balance to defend myself.
But I do advise anyone interested in the war going on to Google some of these resisters.
I dunno. I find it interesting. Some, I’ve discovered, represent food advisory bodies that are funded – wait for it – by global companies that peddle junk food and soft drink. I’ve encountered others who have, say, a range of low GI products that they sell. Fructose (the toxic component of sugar) is low GI (as well as toxic). As Gillespie points out, the best way to lower the GI of something (and thus be eligble for the faddish low GI tag) is to whack in a whole lot fructose. Case in point: Nutella is low GI.
Surprised? Sadly I’m not. We live, after all, in a world where the heart foundation “tick” can be bought for $300,000.
I’m glad this debate has emerged again today. It can get us all talking and doubting.
And looking about. And noticing how odd it is that while we all eat more low-fat products than ever before, and join more gyms, we’re only getting fatter and sicker. And perhaps noting that it’s at a rate proportional to the increase in our sugar consumption.
But, of course, take what I say with care. My interests are vested.
What do you reckon??