by Nicola Garrett
It’s hard to know what to believe when it comes to sugar. Some say it’s toxic and directly responsible for a range of chronic diseases; others say it’s simply another form of over-consumed kilojoules. We’ve asked one of the world’s leading researchers on the topic to take us through the latest evidence.
When it comes to sugar there are a few points on which most experts agree. Much of the sugar we consume is hidden in foods most of us eat every day. Too much sugar is bad for your teeth. We need to limit how much added sugar we consume in our diet, especially sugary drinks.
Beyond these points, it can be hard to know what to believe in the sugar debate.
Sucrose, which is made up of fructose and glucose, is the most common form of added sugar used in Australia. We’ve long been told refined sugars like, sucrose, are nothing more than empty kilojoules and aside from being bad for your teeth and contributing to extra centimetres on your waist, they’re unlikely to affect your health.
But a growing body of research links sugar consumption to significant health issues including obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. This has lead to anti-sugar campaigners, such as US endocrinologist Professor Robert Lustig, to call for sugar to be regulated and taxed, much like alcohol or tobacco.
Teasing apart the hard science from the hype on this topic is difficult, so we've asked Professor Jim Mann, who's spent decades studying the impact of sugars on our health, to take us through the research.
Sugar is making us fat
Obesity rates in Australia are climbing faster than anywhere else in the world; a recent study in The Lancet revealed 63 per cent of us are overweight. This is a concern as obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
But how much can we blame sugar for our expanding waistlines?
Mann, a professor in the Department of Human Nutrition and Medicine at University of Otago in New Zealand, and his colleagues have reviewed the evidence for the revision of the WHO guidelines. They found 68 studies that directly looked at the effects of free sugars – those added to foods or naturally occurring – on body weight.
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Their analysis showed that reducing the amount of free sugars in the diet had a small but significant effect on body weight in adults – an average reduction of 0.8 kilograms.