That’s the claim you’ve probably seen on many TV current affairs shows recently as health ‘experts’ whip us into a state of high alarm.
These experts claim that as a nation we’re addicted to sugar, that weaning off sugar is just like going through drug withdrawal; and that when we metabolise sugar, it’s processed just like alcohol and deposits fat around our vital organs that is slowly killing us.
Anyone who is conscious of their health, and the health of their family, is understandably alarmed. In this month’s issue of Healthy Food Guide we look closely at these claims, and find the science doesn’t back up what these experts say.
The fact is everything in moderation is fine. But speaking as a mum, one of the real surprises was discovering the amount of sugar we consume every day – with or without realising. There’s the sugar that’s added to our breakfast cereal, that’s in a variety of savoury pasta sauces and, of course, the high amount of sugar in soft drinks. Imagine; there are more than 10 teaspoons of sugar in a can of common soft drink. That’s almost all of your daily allowance of added sugar, downed in one large gulp.
A recent Foreign Correspondent documentary showed how soft drink has replaced tap water as the most common drink in third-world countries, particularly Mexico, which has become one of the fattest nations on earth. And the images of families passing around giant bottles of fizzy drink to mindlessly chugalug on were shocking.
I’m of the school that moderation is the key in all dietary considerations, so I don’t have a problem with a bit of chocolate or even a spoonful of sugar in a cappuccino. And, speaking as a mum, I’m committed to trying to make the best healthy food choices for my family. I do allow my son to have a sweet treat in his lunch box along with his fruit and sandwich. But I like to make these decisions consciously. What concerns me most is that, even when we’re trying to be healthy, it’s almost impossible to avoid taking in ‘hidden’ added sugar in so many foods.
A classic example is yoghurt. As HFG’s dietitian Zoe Wilson recently observed, “Yoghurt’s not meant to taste too sweet.” And there’s the rub. How come it now tastes like a dessert-style treat? Even when, with the best intentions, we opt for ‘low-fat’ yoghurt believing it to be a responsible healthy choice, we can still be piling in the sugar.
So I particularly liked a comment made by one health advocate. “As mothers, it is up to us to educate ourselves so we can help our children.”
It’s true. One of the best health exercises we can do isn’t an aerobics class; rather, it’s taking an extra five minutes at the supermarket to read the labels on food packaging. Sugar is just one example of what you should be looking out for – along with other nutrients like saturated fat, kilojoules, sodium – but those are another story! If sugar appears in the first three ingredients then it’s one of the most concentrated ingredients in that product. So skip it and look for a better choice. As I found out in our guide to smart supermarket shopping (September 2012 issue), the healthiest choices are often to be found on the top or bottom rows, not at eye level, which is where the biggest brands with the highest profit margins (which tend to be the highly processed and sweetest options) get prominent positioning.
I don’t want to sound like one of the sugar alarmists. Sugar is okay in moderation, but how will we know what moderation is if added sugars aren’t separated on food labels and we can’t tell where the sugar listed is coming from?
It is in our own interests for every one of us to become a label detective and to petition for clearer labeling of sugar on food packaging. Only then can we make informed choices, enjoy sugar where and when we want it and really become masters of our own health destiny.