food

The 5 things we're missing in the discussion about sugar.

Aussie actor Damon Gameau, 39, set himself a challenge to eat a diet of foods that are marketed as “healthy”. In two months, Gameau put on 8.5kg and gained 10cm of fat around his waist, even though his calorie intake and exercise levels stayed the same. He writes for Mamamia about what’s missing from the conversation about sugar:

Last week, a report came from Google that for the first time in history the search words ‘low sugar’ overtook the words ‘low fat’. Public awareness around sugar is almost at gratingly high proportions and I would personally like to apologise for contributing to that in some small way.

I justify my contribution to this cultural ‘de sweetening’ by looking at the 1 in 4 Aussie children that are now overweight or obese, the 9 billion dollars we now spend annually on type 2 diabetes and the fact that this generation of children are likely to be the first to live shorter lives than their parents because diet related illnesses now contribute to more deaths than tobacco, alcohol and drugs combined.

But let’s be clear on 2 things. Firstly, added sugar is not evil or poison; this is a tale of excess. A little bit of sugar as a treat isn’t going to hurt anyone and is actually how it was once intended to be consumed (in 13th century England it was such a delicacy that the equivalent of a 1 kilo bag is all that existed in the entire kingdom).

sugar chocolate bars istock
We have slightly more than 1 kilo. Image via iStock.

And secondly, fruit is fantastic. With so much demonising of fructose flying around, it is important to emphasize that fruit is nature’s candy and should be thoroughly enjoyed (the fibre is protective of the fructose), especially by growing children. The only time to limit fruit intake is if you are looking to reverse or control your type 2 diabetes.

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How much sugar is in your favourite drink? Post continues below. 

So to pique your interest in ‘yet another sugar article’, here are 5 things you may have missed amidst all the recent sugar cube public stonings:

• There is no actual biological requirement for added sugar in our diets. The body doesn’t need it at all. We can get all the glucose and fructose we require from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lots of other sources. This is why Australians having somewhere between 30 and 40 teaspoons of the stuff a day is madness and why the World Health Organisation recommends no more than 6 teaspoons a day for optimal health.

• Between 15 and 20 percent of a cigarette is sugar. Yep. When the sugar burns it releases a chemical that helps with the uptake of nicotine into the brain receptors. In other words, it helps make cigarettes more addictive and the tobacco industry have known this for years.

sugar guide
‘That Sugar Guide’ by Damon and Zoe Gameau is published by Pan Macmillan, RRP $39.99. Image supplied.

• Sugar is made up of one half fructose and one half glucose. The fructose half in large amounts turns to fat in our liver and then pumps that fat into our bloodstream. The glucose half triggers the hormone insulin which contributes to trapping any fat in our bodies. We also store any excess glucose as fat, so a day filled with 30 to 40 teaspoons of sugar plus toast, pasta, crackers or other glucose from fruit or veggies is a veritable ‘Festival of Glucose’ inside our bodies. Without a very high level of exercise, a fat-making factory will ensue.

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• Despite being heavily marketed to children, sports drinks are only required if you have done a really really intense work out, perhaps run a marathon or played a game of AFL. Any other time they are consumed, the 8 teaspoons of sugar will mainly be processed by the liver and is likely to be turned straight into fat (non alcoholic fatty liver disease was virtually unheard of 35 years ago and now affects 1 billion people worldwide). The All Blacks Rugby Union team rarely touch the stuff and when I spent time with the LA Lakers, they were all drinking Kombucha. There is no way children should be having sports drinks. Some water, a small pinch of salt and some real orange will do the trick.

Sugar label
We need to be transparent about how much sugar is in the foods we consume. Image via www.thatsugarfilm.com.

• You are being played by members of the food industry when it comes to sugar. Coca Cola in the US recently declared where they send their funding. Sadly 57% of it went to dieticians who are active on social media. In Australia this month, Coca Cola released their funding streams. Disturbingly, one 3rd of the 1.7 million dollars went to youth organisations. We really need to start protecting our children better.

We have recently developed a clear teaspoon labeling system for added sugar that an array of companies are looking to implement. The aim is to make it easier for people to empower themselves around sugar so they can truly know what the term ‘moderation’ means.

You can buy ‘That Sugar Guide’ here.

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