Food Scientist Wladmir Budnik finally put to rest all of the myths and misconceptions surrounding one of the controversial, yet highly consumed substances in the world.
Is sugar really that bad for us?
Sugar per se is not bad for us. Mankind has been consuming sugars since the day we first ate plants, seeds and fruits as a normal part of our diet. All plants and fruits contain sugars naturally (some more than others) and they have never caused any particular health issue or concern.
The problem is more with the added refined sugars that have been introduced into our diet over many years as texturising, bulking and sweetening agents via the processed foods and beverages that we consume on a daily basis. Much of our processed foods and beverages have now become so loaded with sugar that simply eating a bowl of processed cereal with flavoured yoghurt and drinking a can of soft drink can take our sugar consumption well over the WHO recommended daily allowance of 5 teaspoons or 25g.
Easter will soon be here and we will all be tucking into moulded chocolate eggs, rabbits and the like but did you know that these products contain anywhere from 50-60 per cent sugar?
That’s 10-12 teaspoons of sugar for a 100g chocolate egg! It’s become an accepted clinical fact that the overconsumption of sugar in or diets is the main factor for the worldwide epidemic of type 2 diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome.
How is this harmful to Australians?
One in three Australian children are now considered to be overweight or obese and the cause has been squarely laid at the feet of the overuse of sugar in the processed food and beverage industries.
Overconsumption of sugar can also contribute to premature ageing.
Researchers have found the people with a high level of sugars in their bloodstream appear to look older than their age. This is due to blood sugars reacting with proteins and fats in the body to produce Advanced Glycation Endproducts (AGEs). AGEs cause damage to the collagen and elastin in the skin, resulting in fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation so that you look aged well beyond your years.
What is stevia? Why is it healthier?
Stevia is a natural intensive sweetening compound with zero calories, extracted from leaves of the plant Stevia rebaudiana, a native plant of Uruguay that has been traditionally used as a sweetening herb for over a thousand years. Stevia has approximately 300 times the sweetness level of sugar and was approved as a food additive intensive sweetener in 2008 by Australian food regulators.
We generally believe fruit is healthy. However, is fructose bad for us?
Almost all fruits contain the three common sugars glucose, fructose and sucrose and they are all accepted as a normal part of a healthy diet when consumed in the original fruit form.
Fructose has received negative press primarily because it’s a major component of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which became a popular low cost processed food ingredient used in low fat foods, for texture and sweetening purposes in the United States. HFCS has been blamed for the massive obesity epidemic and all the related health issues associated with it that currently plague the US health system.
So eat and enjoy your healthy fruits as part of a balanced diet and have no fear of the fructose that they contain.
Are there any deceptive foods that we don’t know are high in sugar?
Unfortunately many foods, particularly those considered to be healthy because of the way they are marketed, are some of worst offenders in terms of excess added sugar.
Walk down the health bars aisle of any major supermarket and observe the packaging on products from big cereal and snack brands. You’ll see catchy product claims such as “lunchbox friendly” and “lunchbox filler” on the front. Then flip them over and read the nutrition labels to see they contain anywhere from 25-40 per cent sugar.
It’s a similar story with big brand breakfast cereals and fruit yoghurts which invariably contain high levels of sugar. Always check the nutritional panel on the rear label and as a good general guide to follow for your daily sugar intake. Stick to foods that contain less than 5g of sugar per 100g and no more than 15g per 100g. For drinks, choose those with less than 2.5g sugar per 100ml and no more than 7.0g per 100ml (Coca Cola contains almost 11g sugar per 100ml).
Is sugar actually addictive?
There was some research done in 2007 with laboratory rats that showed that sugar could be more addictive than cocaine, and hence by extrapolation a somewhat controversial assumption that the same may be the case in humans. There’s no highly credible research to date to prove that “sugar addiction” actually exists in humans, however there seems to be some desire for sweetness in our diet, but to describe this as a true addiction is probably stretching the facts.
What are your top tips on how to curb our sweet tooth?
A gradual reduction in the diet of processed foods with added sugar is a good start. Look for foods and beverages that do not have sugar (or any of its pseudonyms such as brown rice syrup, agave syrup, malt extract, palm sugar or the like) in the top four ingredients.
As mentioned above, stick to foods that contain less than 5g of sugar per 100g and no more than 15g per 100g. For drinks choose those with less than 2.5g sugar per 100ml and no more than 7.0g per 100ml.
Why do you think there has become such a sugar-free movement and health culture e.g. ‘That Sugar Film’?
Since the WHO guidelines on sugar were released in March 2015, recommending a halving of the daily intake, along with substantial evidence to indicate that we are facing a worldwide obesity and Type 2 diabetes epidemic, and which has been squarely laid at the feet of the processed food industry, in particular sugar sweetened beverages, there’s been a major focus on reducing sugar in our everyday diet. Subsequent publications and films featuring local celebrities highlighting the health issues surrounding the overconsumption of sugar in our diets has turned sugar into “public enemy number one”.
How is dark chocolate good for us?
It may come as a surprise to some, but most of what makes up a block of dark chocolate is cocoa mass, comprised of pulverised cocoa beans which are the seeds from the cocoa pod fruit of the tropical Theobromo cacao tree. Cocoa mass (often referred to as “coca liquor”) is now well-recognised as an abundant source of natural antioxidants called flavanols which have been shown to contribute to cardiovascular health.
To quote from a recently published article: “The meteoric emergence of cocoa flavanols as the new ‘super ingredient’ continues, with many new scientific publications focused on the potential health effects of these special compounds. The down side of most dark chocolate is it’s comprised of around 30 per cent sugar. A great solution is Well Naturally No Sugar Added Dark Chocolate with 70 per cent cocoa. It offers all the benefits without the sugar downsides and is naturally sweetened with stevia.
What is your personal philosophy on diet and food?
Eat a balanced diet of which at least two thirds is composed of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and cereals. A third of your food intake should be poultry, fish, lean meat and dairy including yoghurt. Limit the amount of processed foods you eat and choose those with no sugar added claims on the label but don’t beat yourself up if occasionally you indulge in a treat that contains some sugar. Go easy on your alcohol intake.
This website is an excellent reference source to use as a guide to healthy eating which I personally would highly recommend.
How do you recommend people lose weight and stay healthy?
There’s no quick fix short cut to losing weight and staying healthy. It involves commitment, planning, education and regular exercise. Forget about the fad and celebrity diets and use the well-researched and proven Healthy Weight Guide.
The guide is a comprehensive source of information available to the Australian public on how to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. It is based on Australian and international research and has been developed by the Australian Government.
The Healthy Weight Guide can assist you on your journey to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
What are the food trends for 2016?
Global market research company Mintel has released its food and drink trend predictions for 2016. Here are some of the key trends:
1. Vegetarian alternatives will progressively become mainstream
2. Less processed and more natural foods to be demanded
3. Eating for body and beauty – more foods with key functional ingredients for both health and beauty
4. Matching foods with exercise programmes – reinforce connection between diet and exercise
5. Matching diets with DNA – match diet with your personal physiology and genetic make-up
Any other food tips for our readers you would like to add?
You are what you eat – or more correctly you are what the microbes in your digestive system eat, so nurture them, feed them and they’ll look after you.