The ‘barren’ sugars
As a steady diet, white sugar is worse than nothing, according to William Duffy back in 1986.
His book Sugar Blues refers to sailors in a 1793 shipwreck that was carrying a cargo of sugar. The five surviving sailors tried to sustain themselves by eating only that and drinking rum. They were found nine days later in a surprisingly wasted condition due to starvation.
Sugar-loaded but tastes so good….. my sandwich sponge cake with freshly-whipped double cream and store-bought strawberry jam.
About a decade before Duffy’s call to be wary of sugar, British professor John Yudkin had tried ardently to alert the public of sugar’s harmful effects. But his attempts failed, he was disparaged for his life work.
Pure, White and Deadly (1972), which he wrote upon retirement, was largely derided and dismissed by a sugar research organisation as “science fiction”.
One can only imagine his anguish over the ruin of his professional reputation before he died in 1975, not knowing that his work will one day be cited as the foundation for the anti-sugar message.
The man who resurrected Pure, White and Deadly, now in print again, is Robert Lustig, professor of paediatric endocrinology at the University of California.
In his ground-breaking University of California lecture Sugar: The Bitter Truth, which went viral after its posting on Youtube, he said: “Everything this man said in 1972 was the God’s honest truth and if you want to read a true prophecy you find this book… I’m telling you every single thing this guy said has come to pass. I’m in awe.”
Professor Lustig’s strong message has been accepted as the catalyst for the anti-sugar movement. It calls for sugar to be treated as a toxin, like alcohol and tobacco, and for sugar-laden foods to be taxed, labelled with health warnings and banned for anyone under 18, just like the way other alcohol or tobacco are treated.
Lustig does not believe that sugar merely makes a person pile on fat; backed by increasing scientific evidence, he is convinced it is the cause of several chronic and very common illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. And sugar is highly addictive too, he warns. More on Lustig’s message in a later post.
In recent times, watchdog groups have been keeping tabs on the latest scientific developments of what sugar in its various forms does to us. Nutrition and fitness writers, among others, are raising global awareness of the bad effects of sugar. Particularly of sucrose (white or brown beet or cane sugar) and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which is commonly added to processed food and drinks.
Across nations, sugar consumption has tripled in the past 50 years though the population has but doubled.
Over-consumption of sugar has typically been among the factors associated with obesity, which first caused concerns in the 20th century. Previously associated with the Western world, obesity is now prevalent in countries like China and India.
It became such a health hazard that in 1997 the World Health Organization recognised the condition as a global epidemic. In 2013, the Global Burden of Disease Study found that over the past three decades, there have been a “startling” increase in rates of obesity worldwide.
It is associated with several metabolic abnormalities, including insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which are key factors for Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The chronic and deadly diseases linked to obesity and the resultant loss of lives and productivity as well as wasted medical expenses, have exerted a heavy toll on healthcare systems in many countries.
In Australia, where about six in 10 adults are overweight, the Diabetic Health Clinic describes the issues surrounding the obesity epidemic as similar to those that have surrounded the tobacco industry. It recognises that sugar, too, can become a “substance of abuse”.
It points to the food industry’s production of addictive processed foods, packaged and displayed appealingly on supermarket shelves as healthy choices.
In the Netherlands, obesity has doubled over the last two decades and more than half of Dutch adults are overweight. Its capital Amsterdam, where the sale and use of classified soft drugs in coffee shops will generally not attract prosecution, the head of the capital’s health service weighed in on an official website that “the most dangerous drug of the times can still be easily acquired everywhere”.
In the UK, obesity rates are 10 times what they were when Yudkin’s anti-sugar book was out four decades ago. The health department ruled out a sugar tax as experience showed that even steep increases on sugary food did not lead to meaningful behaviour change, only further saddling poor families, used to sugary foods, with raised bills.
In March this year, the chancellor announced that a sugar tax will be imposed on the soft drinks industry. TV chef Jamie Oliver was among the campaigners making a case against sugar in the fight against childhood obesity. But others against the tax believe it will not reduce sugar consumption and instead will add to the food bill of the poor.
Other countries that have introduced targeted tax measures on sugar include the US, Mexico, Denmark, France, Norway and South Africa.
United Nations figures have shown there are a third more obese people than undernourished people in the world. The European Commission has reported that taxes on sugar, salt or fat do lessen consumption. But it warned that higher taxes may cause people to circumvent the taxation by buying cheaper brands.
UP next — “UNEQUAL CALORIES”