10 myths about sugar

vladimir putin
(foto via eng.accreditation.kremlin.ru/accreditation/photo)

1. SUGAR IS FOOD FOR THE BRAIN

Sugar is a source of unnecessary and unhealthy calories. Unlike fats, proteins and complex carbohydrates, sugar provides no nutritional value and the body does not need it. Excessive sugar intake, especially in a liquid form, is something we are all sensitive to. Excessive intake is harmful to children and adults, as well as to thin, average and overweight people.

2. SUGAR IS NATURAL

True. The sugar in whole raw fruits and the lactose in milk are categorised as naturally occurring sugars and are unproblematic, as opposed to free sugars. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines free sugars as: “Sugars and syrups that are added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, and fruit juices. These do not include the sugars present in whole fruits (fructose) or in milk (lactose).” The maximum sugar intake that does not cause health issues is up to 5% of energy input per day, which is significantly less, even for adults, than the amount of sugar contained in one small Coca Cola can (containing 39 g of sugar per 335 ml).

3. SUGAR IS SUGAR. WHETHER SOLID OR LIQUID.

Beverages with added sugar are far more harmful than numerous consumed foods. These beverages actually show unnatural characteristics as they contain almost “invisible calories”. These liquid calories are hard for the body to recognise and substitute, leading to unbalanced appetite. If someone were to eat bread with an energy value of 200 kcal for breakfast, during the day he or she would naturally substitute it by consuming 200 kcal less. But if this person were to drink 200 kcal in the form of a beverage with added sugar, his or her body would be unable to fully substitute it by consuming 200 kcal less that day.

Beverages with added sugar should not be classified as healthy foods and beverages but should be placed in the category of dangerous substances like trans-fats, alcohol and tobacco.

4. DRINKING SWEETENED BEVERAGES IS NOT A PROBLEM FOR SLOVENE TEENAGERS

According to a study conducted at the Division of Paediatrics at the University Medical Centre Ljubljana, Slovene teenagers drink excessive amounts of beverages with added sugar, which are the main source of added sugars in their diet. The consumption of beverages with added sugar should be reduced and the intake of water increased. This could be achieved by encouraging teenagers to drink still or carbonated water and unsweetened tea. The research conducted by the WHO on the health behaviour of school-aged children (HBSC study), which included 38 European countries and the US, showed that Slovene teenagers all too often reach for sweetened beverages. In the study, Slovene 15-year-olds were placed at the very top in comparison to other European and US participants regarding the frequency of drinking sweetened beverages. Slovene 11-year-olds came in second while 13-year-olds were third. In Slovenia, most frequent everyday consumers of beverages with added sugar are 15-year-old teenagers (boys 49%, girls 39%), followed by 13-year-olds (boys 41%, girls 31%) and 11-year-olds (boys 36%, girls 27%).

5. FRUIT JUICES HAVE NO ADDED SUGARS

But they do contain free sugars, which, according to the recommendations of the WHO, need to be limited in our diet. Fruit juices contain 5–17% free sugars (23–71 kcal per 100 ml).

6. RAISING AWARENESS MUST BEGIN IN SCHOOLS

Too late. The issue of drinking sweetened beverages starts at birth or even during pregnancy and breastfeeding. A study conducted in five European countries on babies drinking calorific beverages showed that parents give to their breastfed and even more frequently to their non-breastfed babies sweetened beverages as early as in their first months, which goes completely against the recommendations. In addition, pharmacies now sell sweet instant tea, which also fails to meet the recommendations.

7. MY CHILD DOES NOT CONSUME ANY SWEETENED BEVERAGES IN HIS “HEALTHY SCHOOL”

Not true. In Slovenia, sweetened beverages are actively marketed to children and teenagers. Children receive sweetened beverages (sweetened teas, syrups to be diluted with water or even nectars) in most kindergartens and schools, even in those carrying the title of “healthy school”. The project “Water is the Best”, which promotes the consumption of water in Slovene schools, showed that with the right approach children can be successfully weaned off drinking sweetened beverages.

8. PEOPLE ARE WELL-INFORMED ABOUT BEVERAGES WITH ADDED SUGAR AND SUGAR IN GENERAL

It is important to inform people about the dangers of drinking beverages with added sugar and about the fact that obesity is just as dangerous as smoking, which makes beverages with added sugar and unhealthy diets just as harmful as smoking. It is equally important to know that almost 80% of industrial products contain added sugar.

9. PEOPLE SHOULD BLAME THEMSELVES FOR DRINKING BEVERAGES WITH ADDED SUGAR

According to Eric Ding, a nutritionist and epidemiologist from Harvard University, the producers who supply beverages with added sugar should pay for the damage that these beverages cause to society, similarly to how factories pay for polluting the environment. Producers of beverages should be aware of their social responsibility and pay for it. Currently, their profit does not reflect the overall effect on diseases that are caused by beverages with added sugar.

The government must realise that the low price of unhealthy beverages promotes their consumption, thus raising expenses for healthcare. It would be extremely difficult to raise the price of all unhealthy foods. The first step would be to impose “health-risk taxes” on producers of beverages with added sugar, as is done with tobacco. Smoking causes all kinds of diseases. In the US, tobacco factories in every state pay smoking-related medical costs. So, tobacco factories pay large amounts of money for causing health-related problems and the producers of beverages with added sugar should be made to take a similar step.

Factories that pollute the environment must pay for cleaning up the hazardous waste they produce.

The same concept should apply to producers of beverages with added sugar, who should take responsibility for causing obesity, diabetes, heart disease and many other sugar-related diseases.

10. OBESITY IS NOT AS BIG A PROBLEM AS THEY IMPLY

Obesity is the number one threat in both developed and developing countries. The main causes of death in many developing countries are not infectious diseases but chronic cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes, or in short, diseases connected with obesity. Numerous non-governmental organisations focus on treating malaria and tuberculosis, but the focus should really be on treating chronic diseases caused by modern dangers like beverages with added sugar.

 

Title photo: via Wikipedia.

 

Translated by: Tanja Breznik.

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