Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Is sugar the “new tobacco”?


The headline reads “Why are health experts calling sugar the new tobacco?” Because it’s catchy and makes for great headlines, duh!

I know that a lot of people are going to be pissed off with me for not taking up the cause and demonizing sugar. Sorry guys. I agree that most of us consume too much sugar (and too much of anything is a bad thing). I agree that excess sugar can cause cavities. I agree that the vast majority of us like sweet foods. However, I don’t believe that sugar is truly addictive… There is a difference between addiction and desire. Just because rats like oreos and sugar “lights up pleasure centres” in our brains doesn’t make it addictive.

I keep seeing claims that our bodies process calories from white sugar differently than calories from other foods. This makes no sense. The common definition of a calorie (technically a kilocalorie) is: the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water one degree Celsius (1). There is no way for your body to differentiate between “types” of calories. There is only one type! Your body also can’t distinguish between sucrose in white sugar and sucrose in an apple. It is a chemical compound. It is what it is.

Calling on the food industry to reduce sugar content of foods is a dangerous proposition, in my opinion. Remember when we asked food manufacturers to reduce fat content? They added salt and sugar. Remember when we asked food manufacturers to reduce sodium? Not that much ever came of this. Point being, when they take something out they put something else in to replace it. We now know that fat is not inherently bad for us, nor is sodium, nor is sugar. No one of these things alone is causing obesity. Rather than asking food manufacturers to reduce the sugar content of their foods we should be calling for less heavily processed foods.

Sugar is not the new tobacco. It’s the new scapegoat in the obesity wars.

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Should food packaging take a cue from Australian tobacco?

An Australian court recently upheld a law banning logos and company advertising directly on cigarette packages. Instead, packages must now feature only graphic images of the terrible things that smoking can do to a person. Brand names must all adhere to the same font, location, and colour.

Nutrition has recently been taking cues from progress made in the tobacco industry. I wonder what would happen if branding and nutrition claims were removed from all food packages. I know that it seems a little hard to fathom but imagine going to the grocery store and not being inundated by branded food products with a myriad of nutrition claims. Imagine simple packaging with ingredients and nutrition facts, or even new and improved simplified nutrition information panels. How much easier would it be to make choices? You could still be loyal to your favourite brands but your decision would no longer be affected by claims to lower your cholesterol or boost your antioxidants.

Just to play devil’s advocate… Maybe it could even be taken a step further. There could be gruesome images of the negative effects of excess sodium for foods containing more than a certain percentage of your recommended daily sodium consumption, the same for foods high in saturated or trans-fat, nitrates, and the list goes on. I bet seeing photos of colostomy bags would drive down sales of hot dogs.