What’s The Problem With Sugar?
The facts about sugar consumption are sobering. In Nigel Latta’s revolutionary documentary Is Sugar the New Fat? we see the impacts of high sugar intake on our nation and how its impacting our collective health. And while it’s easy to believe that it’s not us that’s consuming all this sugar, the fact is it’s cheaper for manufacturers to put high volumes of this addictive refined white powder in foods than to find healthier flavour enhancing alternatives, so we get sugar in everyday products whether we want it or not (Sources 1, 2).
As Latta puts it, this sugar is not so much “hidden” sugar, but sugar that’s “hidden in plain sight“.
You can find sugar in every aisle of the supermarket added in breads, sauces, chutneys, yoghurts, cereals, spreads – including Marmite – baked beans, mayonnaise, crackers, and even tins of tuna. And yep, it’s true, each squirt of tomato sauce contains a teaspoon of sugar!
So even though you may have fresh fruit, yoghurt and store-bought cereal for breakfast everyday, you’re possibly consuming a day’s worth of sugar in that one meal, if not more.
For example, some cereals are marketed as being good for conscious foodies, but can contain as much as 14.5g of sugar per 100g, which is more than half your recommended sugar intake for one day (Source).
A recommended serving size is 30-40g per serving but most adults pour out a bowl of around 75g (Source).
By comparison, a cereal which targets active boys in its marketing contains 26.7g of sugar per 100g, which is nearly twice as much sugar as a recommended daily maximum intake (Source).
And plain old cornflakes has 8.1g per 100g (Source), which is still one-third of a day’s recommended sugar intake, and that’s without lactose from milk, plus fruit and yoghurt.
How Much Is Too Much?
The WHO recommended daily intake for us gals is just 6 teaspoons per day, 8 for guys, and only 4 teaspoons a day max for kids (Source). Latta’s research found that the average New Zealand adult consumes up to 50kgs of sugar per year, which equates to around 32 teaspoons of sugar daily, which for women is more than 5 times what we should be having.
Using our heavily marketed healthy cereal examples, without adding milk, fruit or yoghurt, you could have already used around half your entire recommended daily sugar intake in just one portion of dry cereal.
Why Does Our Sugar Intake Matter?
In his documentary, Latta visits Nelson Public Hospital to witness the truly shocking removal of decayed teeth from children who are part of our over-sugared nation, including one young girl who said goodbye to six of her teeth in one several hour operation. It makes for horrifying viewing.
Her oral surgeon Dr Rob Beaglehole says as well as enormous pain immediately after the operation, she’ll have trouble chewing her food, will look different to all the other kids in the playground and probably will need expensive complex orthodontic treatment later on. Her mother admitted that she gave her daughter Coke in her baby bottle and runs a high sugar diet household. And thousands of other young children are lining up to have their teeth removed – 34,000 in 2014 alone. At $5000 per general anaesthetic, the cost to the taxpayer is staggering given this is all “self-inflicted”, 100% preventable damage.
Find out how you can change these outcomes, below!
While we can turn a blind eye to the children’s predicament, we can’t steer ourselves away from the impact all this sugar consumption is having on our personal health and in our already pressured health system.
As a nation, we’re becoming increasingly obese (Source) with New Zealand only behind Mexico and the United States for obesity rates in the OECD (Source Dec 2015). In fact 65% of all Kiwi adults are either obese or overweight, and 33% of our children are overweight and obese, a figure that is growing around 10% year on year.
As a result, around 250,000 Kiwis are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes – with around 50 new people diagnosed every day – with thousands suffering kidney disease and heart disease, and metabolic syndrome, more so than ever before. Type 2 diabetes is a highly preventable lifestyle disease brought on by the overconsumption of sugar. When you tot up the cost to the taxpayer’s bill, we simply cannot afford it, especially when dialysis treatment (pictured above) costs between $50,000-100,000 per person per year and the rate of uptake is increasing by 10% each year.
What Are The Benefits of Sugar?
According to University of California paediatric endocrinologist and prolific sugar researcher Professor Robert Lustig (pictured right) there are no nutritional benefits to sugar (watch him talk here). Instead it raises the hormone insulin and turns into fat in our bodies (Source). Professor Lustig specifically lists three concerning reactions from sugar in the human body, which makes it toxic to human bodies:
- Causes liver fat
- Causes cell ageing
- Interferes with the brain’s functioning to regulate how much to eat
He adds that while we can process a very small amount of sugar in our diet, our livers cannot deal with a lot. In fact, he likens the long term damage caused by sugar consumption to that caused by tobacco consumption. Yikes!
Reduce your sugar intake with our 5 sweet tips below
Another effect of over-consumption of sugar is triglycerides in blood. These are a type of fat present in the blood and a sign of excess sugar in the diet. They make blood stickier and more prone to causing clots in the blood leading to heart attack and stroke (Source).
What Can We Do About It?
It’s simple: change our diets! We all need to make smarter choices when we do our shopping and as we graze during the day.
We know that one can of fizzy drink is around four days worth of your total weekly sugar intake and is easy to remove from the diet, but we need to cut the extra and hidden sugars out. Sugar releases opioids and dopamine, and when tested on lab rats is found to be eight times more addictive than cocaine so this is no easy task, but we have to start somewhere (Sources 1, 2).
5 Sweet Tips To Reduce Your Sugar Intake!
Reducing sugar intake is critical for our health and the health of our nation. World famous healthy food advocate, Kiwi Jason Shon Bennett reckons everyone who thinks they’re about the right weight is probably 10kgs overweight. So considering that, plus the critical, life-threatening health implications of a high sugar diet, doing these 5 sweet tips to reduce your sugar intake is a walk in a park!
1. Imagine the sugar in the food you’re eating in actual teaspoons.
Four grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon (Source). So start picturing your sugar intake as real teaspoons of sugar so you can better imagine what you’re consuming. It’s going in your body, so you should know what you’re eating. And if you’re having packaged cereals for brekkie, even the ones you think are healthy, this means you need to visualise around 2-3 teaspoons of added sugar (possibly more!) depending on serving size. If you add a small pottle of yoghurt, which contains between 16-30g of sugar (4-7 teaspoons), you’ve pretty much had or surpassed your 6 teaspoons of sugar before you’ve even started your day. Visualise that!
2. Go sugar light.
Read the back of packets of processed foods and look at the sugar gram value per 100 grams (you may need to take a magnifying glass!). Just do it!! At the absolute leanest end of the scale, the optimal level of sugar is around 4g per 100g in prepackaged foods. This is a tough one, so weigh up all nutritional benefits against sugar, a more realistic and achievable goal is to reduce sugar intake in processed food to under 10-15g per 100g. And once you start looking at food labels, you’ll be blown away by what goes over 15 g and is marketed as healthy. Start buying only foods that fall under 15 grams per 100 grams and you’ll be living sugar light (pssst… watch the kgs fall off!).
3. Snack healthy.
This is not hard but like all good things in life takes a bit of organisation. There are some healthy snacks on the shelf that fall under the 10-15 gram mark and are ready to grab and go. So it’s good to find, buy and support the brands that are really making an effort to produce truly healthy snacks. One such brand is Nice & Natural I’ve managed to get my hands upon its brand new muesli bar saviours that kick all others to the kerb. It’s the new Nice & Natural Protein Nut Bar with Superseeds range. The Salted Caramel flavour contains just 4g of sugar per 100g, which is only 2g of sugar per one-serving bar, and the Dark Chocolate and Cacao contains 9.8g per 100g which is just 4g per serving. The salted caramel is perfect half an hour before or after the gym when you need a protein hit, and the choccie is perfect to pack for a tramp in the bush or for a day walking or playing in the park.
4. Swap out hidden sugars for natural sugars.
Sometimes the sugar craving deserves to be indulged – especially when “hanger” is near. This is actually easy to do once you create healthy habits. Keep fresh fruit at your desk (packed with valuable fibre), or now that apple season is underway, lightly stew some fresh apples with cinnamon at night and take some to work for a snack. You could even club together with colleagues to get a fruit box delivery (I did this at one work and it was amazing!). Go easy on the fruit juice though, instead grab a carrot juice (3.9 g per 100 g) or beetroot juice, which despite not having the fibre, both have huge health benefits from antioxidants through to cancer prevention (Source).
5. Know what sugar is called in packaged food.
This is so important! There are more than the 56 names used for sugar in processed food in the graphic below, and some are better than others. For example, nutritionally speaking, date sugar (Source) and black molasses have health benefits such as containing loads of necessary vitamins and minerals as well as being a high source of iron (Source), whereas in a surprise result, “healthy” sugar alternative algave sugar has as little nutritional value as refined sugar (Source). And the big one to look for, especially if you’re feeding children, is high fructose corn syrup, which is widely debated as being chief among the causes of the rapidly increasingly US obesity rates.
Whatever you do, always make sure you know what you’re consuming and what impacts the ingredients will have on your health and our Kiwi health system. Is that sugar craving really worth it?
Thanks to Nice & Natural for supporting us to collate the research on this post and sharing this important sugar story.