A generation ago there was an industry in tobacco and its product was cigarettes. Today, it is the food and beverage industry and its product is sugar – sugar that is being added to food and drink.
It’s not only used as a sweetener, it’s used as a coloring for food consistency and as something to hold the ingredients together. Having small amounts of sugar in moderation is OK. But large amounts every day are not good. Our food supply now contains so much added sugar that our metabolic (energy-processing) systems just can’t handle it.
In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) reaffirmed its previous recommendation that ideally our intake of sugar – except that naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables – should not exceed ten per cent of total energy intake, and that less than five per cent would bring additional health benefits. Sugar-sweetened soft drinks and juices are the dietary version of the cigarette, and they may provide a short-term kick, but in the long term they contribute to a range of diseases and ultimately premature mortality. It’s increasing our risk of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, in fact, our expanding waistlines may represent a risk as grave as smoking.
New research also indicates that sugar, like tobacco, may be addictive. Sugar activates the brain in a way that is reminiscent of a drug like cocaine and people build up a tolerance to sugar much the same way smokers and drug users do. That means the more sugar you eat, the less you feel the reward. The result, you eat more than ever.
Despite the hype, it’s important not to get too hysterical about sugar. It’s a non-essential nutrient but small amounts in moderation are fine. For example, you might be worried that a simmer sauce contains a lot of sugar – but if you’re eating it with lean meat and vegetables, then the meal as a whole is nutritious. When everyone commits to looking after their health, soft drinks will not be on the menu. And the companies will follow your money, wherever it goes, so make it count to better health and a better future.