London Daily Mail:
"Often it [the sweetner we crave] is disguised as 'high fructose corn syrup' a maize-derived sugar product that is not included as part of conventional sugar consumption figures but which has a similar effect on the body."
Daily Mail (London)
October 25, 2007 Thursday
IS SUGAR KILLING YOU?;
We're obsessed with the dangers of everything from salt to smoking. But the real menace is a poison we're genetically programmed to crave ...
BYLINE: Lois Rogers
SECTION: 1ST; Pg. 66
AS THE ban on smoking in public places takes hold, and the final smoke rings are blown away from the bars, offices and homes of Britain, an equally deadly scourge is taking the place of tobacco.
Like cigarettes, it is leading to a national health crisis. Like cigarettes, it is readily available on every high street. Like cigarettes, experts believe it is highly addictive. And like the tobacco firms of old, the manufacturers are using slick tactics to increase consumption of their products while obscuring public awareness about the dangers they present.
And the name of this dangerous commodity? Sugar. Yes, that delicious sweet substance we all consume with scarcely a second thought is, say experts, behind a new health crisis.
Last week's headlines said it all: 'Obesity: now deadlier than smoking.' That was the conclusion of a report by 250 leading scientists who say that while smoking reduces life expectancy by an average of ten years, being seriously overweight can cut it by as much as 13 years.
The scale of the problem is certainly immense.
The report claimed that if current trends continue, by 2050, 60 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women will be clinically obese, placing an intolerable strain on the health service as rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and weight-related cancer spiral.
But the report did not examine the role that sugar is playing in this public health scandal.
Until now, scientists have had difficulty explaining how so many of us have managed to put on so much weight. But new research by a group of experts at Cambridge University suggests that our spiralling consumption of sugar may be to blame.
They have proved for the first time that many people are actually consuming far greater quantities of sugar than they realise, eating almost half a pound of it a day more than four times the recommended healthy daily limit even when they believe their intake is much lower.
This is not just a case of ignorance and greed: it is because the sugar industry is stealthily shovelling its product into as many foods as possible.
For sugar is not just used to make sweets and biscuits, it is present in ever-growing quantities in everything we eat, from pizza and cooked meat to tinned vegetables, 'healthy' fruit juices and even diet foods like Ryvita and Slim Fast.
Often it is disguised as 'high fructose corn syrup' a maize-derived sugar product that is not included as part of conventional sugar consumption figures but which has a similar effect on the body.
What makes this trend even more insidious is that the more sugar we consume, the more we want to consume.
OUR CRAVING for sugar is primeval: when our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived by foraging for food, they quickly learned that naturally sweet foods were seldom toxic. The result is that we are genetically programmed to like the taste.
The trouble is, the more sweet food we eat, the more we are likely to reject food that is not sweet even if it is meat or vegetables.
Of course, sugar is not poisonous, like the tar in tobacco, but what is very disturbing is the way the food conglomerates are using many of the same tactics once employed by tobacco firms to obscure the health risks that excessive sugar consumption presents.
For a start, efforts by the Government to present consumers with clear evidence of the harmful effects of a poor diet have been repeatedly blocked. A so-called 'traffic light' food labelling system to warn consumers if food presented a potential health risk was first proposed 20 years ago. But it is not even close to acceptance by the food industry and retailers.
Britain's biggest supermarket, Tesco, refuses to sign up to the scheme, preferring to use its own, more complex system. It says this gives consumers even more information to help them choose healthy products. But cynics say such systems deliberately confuse shoppers, making it harder for them to know what they are buying, and thus ensuring that sales of junk food products remain buoyant.
There is plenty of evidence the public does not know what is healthy food, and what isn't. A survey last month of more than 2,000 people by the government's Food Standards Agency showed nearly half did not know that foods with a high sugar content could be bad for you, and one in five thought they could somehow wipe out the calorie gain from sugary processed foods by eating extra fruit to compensate.
Tony Cameron, 47, and a father of two, was typical of the obesity crisis in Britain. He used to weigh 19 stone, and is diabetic, as a result of years of eating junk food. But thanks to attending a food management course run by his local council in South London, which taught him how to read food labels properly, he has got his weight down to 15 stone.
He now knows that all ingredients ending in '...ose' such as maltose, dextrose, glucose and so on are forms of sugar.
'All the ingredients are disguised,' he says. 'You have to be an expert chemist to get through it, and without understanding labels you wouldn't know how many foods contain sugar. It's outrageous.
'Now everyone is off the cigarettes, they are stitching us up with extra sugar instead.' Although there is no universally agreed recommendation for an individual's daily sugar intake, the Food Standards Agency and the World Health Organisation say that no more than ten per cent or 200-250 calories should come from processed sugar, including sugar found in fruit juice.
But even eating a bowl of cereal means you may well have had a quarter of your daily sugar allowance, while a single can of Coca-Cola contains eight teaspoons of sugar more than half the total daily allowance.
This excessive intake leads to weight gain, and all its associated health problems, including a higher risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes an illness which in turn can lead to blindness, limb amputation and premature death.
BUT JUST as the tobacco manufacturers for years denied the link between smoking and cancer, so the Sugar Bureau Britain's sugar industry trade association continues to deny a link between sugar and obesity.
'Many people still mistakenly believe that sugar is fattening,' the Bureau says on its website.
'Sugar is a carbohydrate. Eating plenty of carbohydrates and taking part in regular physical activity is the healthiest way to maintain a desirable body weight.' Last week its spokesman said: 'The balance of evidence available at present does not support any particular role for sugar in the causation of obesity.' But that directly contradicts new research by Professor Sheila Bingham of Cambridge University, who has developed a way to test total sugar intake, and has conducted a study involving 800 people aged 45 to 75 which has shown a causal link between excessive weight and high sugar consumption.
The trouble is, in the same way as the tobacco industry sought to infiltrate mainstream science and distort the agenda, the food industry and by extension the sugar manufacturers are doing the same.
The confusing message they seek to promote is that there is no such thing as 'bad food', only 'bad diet'.
For example, the much-discussed
Guideline Daily Allowances for different food groups are set not by independent nutritionists, but by the food industry itself.
The reason for this, according to health campaigners, is the intense lobbying of politicians by aggressive manufacturers who are anxious to protect their market.
One such lobby group is the independent-sounding British Nutrition Foundation, an organisation which claims to promote 'the well-being of society through the impartial interpretation and effective dissemination of scientifically-based knowledge and advice on the relationship between diet, physical activity and health'.
But how pleased would healthconscious parents be to know that this 'impartial' organisation was in
Picture: ABPL fact funded by Britain's suppliers of sugary products, including British Sugar, Cadbury Schweppes, Coca- Cola and Tate & Lyle? Nor is the connection between the tactics of the sugar lobby and the tobacco industry entirely coincidental: Altria, the industrial conglomerate that produces Marlboro cigarettes, is also the parent company of Kraft Foods, makers of sugar-rich foods such as Toblerone, and Terry's Chocolate Orange.
Similarly, the manufacturer of Camel cigarettes, Reynolds American Inc, was for many years the owner of the snack and biscuit giant, Nabisco (Nabisco's brands have now also been integrated into the Altria stable).
No wonder the marketing techniques for processed food and cigarettes seem so similar.
What remains more contentious is whether sugar really is addictive, in the same way as tobacco.
Four years ago, researchers at Princeton University in America claimed they had proved that it is.
They conducted an experiment whereby laboratory rats were offered a healthy grain-based meal alongside a sugary drink solution.
Within a month, the rats had doubled their intake of the sugary drink, and cut down on their intake of calories from food which contained the nutrients they needed.
DIETARY experts say humans behave in the the same way. 'You can say the urge to get a sugar rush is intensely habit-forming,' said Aubrey Sheiham, emeritus professor of dental public health at University College London, who has studied the effect of sugar on the body.
'Added sugar is not the same as natural sugar in an apple, for example, which you metabolise slowly.
Added sugar is metabolised fast and goes straight into your bloodstream.
In some people you get "rebound hypoglycaemia" which means their blood sugar dips abnormally low when the effect wears off, and they then want more sugar.' It's no surprise, then, that our appetite for sugar has increased.
'We have a big problem with a population that now expects all its food to taste sweet,' said Professor Philip James, a senior government nutrition adviser and chairman of the International Obesity Task Force.
'Although I would also say eating too much sugar is more of a deeply entrenched habit than an addiction, we have an industry which uses all the tactics of the tobacco trade to fight for their market.
'The obesity epidemic among children is out of control.' Last week the Department of Health said it was keeping all the evidence on obesity trends 'under review,' while the Food Standards Agency said it is at the early stages of planning a campaign to persuade food processors to use less sugar, in the same way it has tried to persuade them to use less salt.
A spokesman admitted, however, that while the salt campaign was proving hard enough, an anti-sugar campaign would be even harder.
Professor James said: 'We won't get anywhere until the Government realises that this is not just a health issue, it is a serious economic and social problem.
'There should be a minister tackling the obesity epidemic in the Cabinet, not tucked away as some adjunct to the Department of Health. We are facing a crisis.'