Research published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition looked at 53 scientific papers and found a strong and consistent inverse association in the percentage of energy coming from fats and sugars. People with diets low in sugars and fructose were likely to be high in fat, and vice-versa. Nutritionists have labeled this the ‘sugar-fat seesaw’.
A report commissioned by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reviewed the health benefits of reducing salt intake and the take-home message is that salt, in the quantities consumed by most Americans, is no longer considered a substantial health hazard. What the CDC study reported explicitly is that there is no benefit, and may be a danger, from reducing our salt intake below 1 tsp per day. Reducing salt in processed food also caused other more harmful additives and preservatives such as MSG and artificial flavors to be added to make up for the taste. The same will be true if sugar is reduced in processed foods.
Dr Michele Sadler, said: “A key reason that we see this sugar-fat seesaw is likely to be because sources of sugars such as fruit, breakfast cereals and juices are low in fat, while sources of fat such as oils and meat products are low in sugar.”
The guidance suggests lowering the amount of sugar added to food -- excluding that which occurs naturally in fruit or starch, but it will not take into account natural sources of sugar such as maple syrup or honey. This will force the food industry to produce more chemically processed foods which attempt to remove sugar and replace it with artificial substitutes.
Sugar still provides us with a physiological balance we need for long-term health. The deluge of added sugars overwhelm the taste buds, but natural sugars allow sweet flavors to come alive. So we must carefully distinguish between added sugars which are harmful and those which are not.
WHO Describes The Suggestion as Politicial Dynamite
Philip James, president of the International Association for the Study on Obesity, which works with the WHO, described the suggestion as ‘political dynamite’.
‘The food industry will do everything in their power to undermine this,’ he said.
The guidance suggests lowering the amount of sugar from 10 percent to five per cent of the daily allowance, which is equivalent to five teaspoons.
Professor Shrinath Reddy, a cardiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health and member of the WHO panel of experts, said: ‘I would agree with the recommendation to reduce it to five per cent.
The proposals were discussed at a meeting earlier this year after a study by Professor Paula Moynihan, an expert in nutrition and oral health at Newcastle University, highlighted the danger of sugar to dental health.
‘Part of the problem is that sugary foods and drinks are now staples in many people’s diet in industrialised countries, whereas once they were an occasional treat,’ he said.
‘We need to reverse this trend.’
The WHO panel will consider the guidance over the coming months before making a final decision.
Research three years ago by the Emory School of Medicine in the US found that some adults were eating 46 teaspoons of sugar a day. This included six in a bowl of cereal, 14 for lunch including a slice of pizza and a fizzy drink, and 16 for a ready meal in the evening with another sugary beverage.
Kellogg’s was criticised last year by the Advertising Standards Agency for claiming that high sugar was not linked to obesity.
Its Coco Pops website claimed: ‘A panel of world health experts recently reviewed all the evidence and concluded that a high sugar intake is not related to obesity, or the development of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer.
'Nor was it connected to behavioural problems, such as hyperactivity, in children.’ But it is. Added sugar is indeed a problem, but the framework the WHO is suggesting here will encompass more than just added white sugar.
Defining The Type of Sugar Is Key
Sugar receives blame for many health problems, but without it, your body would cease to function properly. Naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in fruit, honey and maple syrup come from sources that benefit your diet. However, the sugars and syrups added during food processing and preparation, called added sugars, are viewed as a detriment to a healthy diet. Maximizing sugar’s benefits requires balancing the healthier and less wholesome sources.
The main reason sugar receives such negative criticism pertains to its lack of nutritive value. But sugars found in grains such as starches, breads and many cereals will metabolize quickly, and although they have a higher nutritional value, pose problems which result in fluctuating blood sugar levels and energy drain. So starches and breads are just as problematic as added sugar for the obese in the long-term.
Glucose that exists beyond your body’s storage capacity for glycogen is turned into fat. Glycemic index, load and the food category you are consuming then become very relevant. Consuming excessive sugar or fat through any artificial method, disrupts your normal eating pattern, causes overeating and can lead to obesity. When sugars are removed from foods, fats (usually bad ones) replace them and cause a cascade of other physiological problems.
Eating whole foods in their natural raw state, regardless of their sugar content is unlikely to make you fat. However, processed foods that rely on reducing sugar intake will consequently need more artificial processing to make up for that loss. So if the WHO is proposing the food industry change their formulations, the question is, what will be added to make up for the decrease in sugar? The answer will tell you the direction this is headed.
Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.