Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

My take on sugar toxicity

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I couldn’t resist getting in on this sweet action… The debate that started in the media yesterday, with the impending release of an article by Robert Lustig (a well-known obesity researcher in the US), Laura Schmidt, and Claire Brindis. The article Public health: The toxic truth about sugar was published today in Nature. Unfortunately it costs $32 to read the actual article so I’m entrusting that the media reports are accurately presenting the key arguments (always a risky assumption). Basically, sugar is being compared to alcohol and tobacco in terms of negative health consequences. Sugar is also far more pervasive in our society so may pose an even greater health risk.
I don’t feel that I’m adequately informed to comment on the science behind the report. I’m going to assume that they’ve got it right, that consistently consuming high levels of sugar is bad for us. Considering that too much of anything (even a good thing) can be bad for you I don’t think that this is too much of a stretch. And people are consuming A LOT of sugar. The most recent data I could find comes from Stats Canada in 2004. This data showed that one out of every five calories we consumed came from sugar. “On average, in 2004, Canadians consumed 110.00 grams of sugar a day, the equivalent of 26 teaspoons. This amounted to 21.4% of their total daily calorie intake.” I doubt that sugar consumption among Canadians has decreased since then so it’s likely about the same or slightly higher. The World Health Organization recommends a maximum of 10% of calories from added sugars. As it’s difficult to separate the added sugar from the naturally occurring sugars in these figures it makes it difficult to comment further. I would, however, hazard a guess that we are consuming too much sugar, regardless of the source.
So, what should we do about this public health threat. Suggestions from the paper included increasing taxes on foods containing added sugar and restricting sales of sugar-added beverages to school-aged children. I don’t think that these are terrible suggestions but it’s not the solution that I would go with. Why should the government stand to make more money off sales of sugary foods and beverages? I think that we should be going straight to the source and be cutting subsidies to the sugar industry (yes, I know, this is an American issue but the article is American and many of our processed foods come from the States) and eliminating tax breaks to manufacturers producing sugar-added foods. Why should the consumer be shouldered with the burden of increasingly expensive foods? Food costs have already risen substantially over the past number of years. In my region, the average cost of groceries for a family of four rose by nearly $14 per week in the past year alone! Why not also reduce the amount of sugar added to foods? I’m not advocating for sugar substitutes, personally I can’t stand the taste of them and I worry that even though the science to-date says they’re safe that we may be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire with them (who remembers the push to replace butter with block margarine?). I’m suggesting that food manufacturers gradually reduce the amount of sugar added to foods and beverages so that consumers don’t even notice the change.
People are not going to let go of their sugar-fixes willingly. We can educate people about the perils of excess sugar consumption until we’re blue in the face and people are still going to drink pop and snack on chocolate bars. I do think that education is an important piece, everyone should be given the tools to make healthy choices, but it’s probably not the most important piece. Our environment has so much more control over our choices than we as consumers realise. We need to change the foods that are being offered to us in grocery stores, corner stores, and restaurants.

Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people see food and nutrition from a different perspective and understand that nutrition and health are not necessarily a result of personal choice.

One thought on “My take on sugar toxicity

  1. Pingback: Fed Up – Movie review | bite my words

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