For many years, scientists were convinced that fat, especially saturated fat, was the biggest problem in our diets. ‘Fat-free’ and ‘low-fat’ products flooded the market, claiming a huge range of health benefits. The problem is, in order for manufacturers to decrease the fat content, they often have to increase the sugar content to maintain flavour.
However, recent research has exposed sugar as a far bigger player in the obesity epidemic than fat, which means that these so-called healthy foods are just as bad for us, if not worse.
The obesity epidemic
Sadly, weight problems are starting younger and younger in the Western population. In England, one in 10 children is obese at the start of primary school and one in five is overweight. By the time they leave, this rises to one in five and one in three.
Of course, obesity is more than just looking fat and feeling unfit; it is a serious problem that can have a major impact on your health. Recent research by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, found causal links between obesity and as many as 36 cancers, and strong links to at least 11, including bowel and colon cancers. “If you are overweight, it causes lots of disruption to your hormonal and metabolic pathways,’ explained Dr Marc Gunter, who led the team.
The World health Organisation has described obesity as “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century”. Simon Stevens of NHS England went even further, describing obesity as ‘the new smoking’.
The fight back
If you are trying to cut down on sugar, then the good news is that the fight back has begun. Now that sugar has been exposed by science as a problem in our food, many companies are working to reduce sugar levels.
Last December, Nestle announced that they had found a way to restructure sugar to dissolve more quickly, so it tastes sweeter and you need less. They say that this will ultimately allow them to reduce the sugar content of their chocolate by 40%, and have already announced a 10% reduction in sugar for KitKat, Aero and Yorkie bars.
Irn Bru makers, AG Barr have announced a cut in sugar content from 10g per 100ml to less than 5g, while Tesco have announced that they will reduce the sugar content of their own brand fizzy drinks by 5% per year.
It’s worth remembering that while these reductions are good news, these products are still high in processed sugars and you should try and avoid them completely if you can.
The ‘sugar tax’
Part of this industry action has been inspired by the Government’s ‘sugar tax’, a levy on soft drinks which will come into force in April next year. The tax will have two bands, one for drinks with between 5g and 8g per 100ml, and a higher rate for drinks above this level. It is estimated that the sugar tax will bring in £415m, which will go directly to schools for physical and mental health programmes, although the ultimate aim is to get drinks manufacturers to reduce their sugar and remove the need for such programmes in the first place.
The UK Government is not alone in legislating against sugary drinks. In France, they have gone one further, announcing a ban on ‘free refills’ or unlimited sugary drinks in restaurants, while a 10% tax on cola in Mexico reduced consumption by 6% in its first year. Unfortunately, an attempt to ban super-sized sugary drinks in New York was defeated in the courts on civil rights grounds!
Here to help
Reducing sugar in your own diet is a real challenge, but there is lots of help available to support you. Remember, you can check the sugar content of your food using the free Be Food Smart app from the NHS Change 4 Life website. You can also talk to your ARCH registered therapist for general diet and lifestyle support. Our members see hundreds of clients every year who are facing the same challenges as you are, so they know what you are up against.
In our next blog, we’ll take a look at how we became addicted to this ‘drug food’, and examine exactly why refined sugar is bad for the body.