I must admit I got very excited when I saw the headlines of an article in the Telegraph. “New government sugar advice will mean ‘extreme’ changes” Sunday Telegraph, 12th July 2015. Yippee I thought! Finally some good changes that will help improve our health. Well, that’s the only good bit of news.
The article (available here) begins by sounding very promising, “Adults and children should be instructed by the government to halve the amount of sugar they consume” sounds good so far…”and eat almost twice as much pasta, potato and other fibrous foods…” not so good. The body views carbohydrate as sugar, regardless of where it comes from so whether it comes from chocolate or wholemeal pasta, it will still be broken down in the same way and any excess stored as fat. This seems to get frequently missed by health advisers!
As a nation, we already eat a lot of carbohydrates whether they come from sweet food i.e. chocolate, cake, biscuits etc or savoury carbs such as bread, pasta and potatoes. The typical diet for most is cereal/toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and pasta/white rice/potatoes and something for dinner. That’s a lot of carbohydrate before you even factor in that from fruit and vegetables plus any sugar consumed. Think about how easy it is to overeat on carbs. A bowl of pasta might be filling at the time but 2 hours later and you’re starving again and what do you fancy more of? Carbs or maybe something sweet because your blood sugar has dropped and your body needs to get back to homoeostasis.
It’s really disappointing to see that these may be the new guidelines. I totally agree we need to reduce added sugar intake but we also need to increase our real food intake. Let’s take the focus away from calories and percentages, let’s focus on the nutritional value of food. Ultimately, the only thing that will save our health is that. Reducing sugar is a good step forward in achieving this but only when those foods are replaced with real, natural foods. That doesn’t mean cutting out any food groups, it means changing your sources of those. If we look at a real food diet, it might looks more like this:
Breakfast: 2 poached eggs with half an avocado
Lunch: chicken salad with olives, plenty of different veg
Dinner: salmon and vegetable stir fry with small portion of brown rice
Those meals all contain carbs, fat and protein but I guarantee you will be less hungry and more satisfied eating that than anything with bread or pasta in it. The only exception I make for bread is high quality, hand made artisan bread which is made with much higher quality ingredients, over a longer period of time and therefore is less bloating to us. Even then, it isn’t necessary to eat it every day.
Part of the reasoning behind reducing sugar is also to improve our oral health. As our sugar consumption has increased, the state of our teeth has massively decreased and there are cases of young children having to have lots of filling and dental work. This is not just from the sugar we eat but also drinks. It’s so sad to see babies drinking bottles of brightly coloured squash or even worse cola and other fizzy drinks. I understand that kids like to have treats but it seems to be more commonplace now and means we’re weaning our children onto sweet things from a very young age. When kids drink sugary drinks, they’ll also want to eat sugary foods because sugar is so addictive.
I honestly think the potential new guidelines will just see cases of obesity rise further. There are already certain slimming clubs where pasta is a free food and you can eat as much as you like. Surprise surprise, many people are not losing weight and can’t understand why it’s not working. Whilst pasta may seem lower in calories, the amount that most people can consume adds a significant number of calories to the diet and also a hefty amount of carbohydrate for the body to deal with. Any excess will be stored as fat.
I’m not suggesting for a minute that anyone should stop eating carbohydrates completely, what we need to remember is the other sources of them in our diets and choose those that are less processed especially vegetables, some fruit, sweet potatoes and even white potatoes in moderate consumption too. Brown rice is also ok to include. These sources of carbohydrates actually contain nutrients rather than just empty calories. When the body is receiving an adequate intake of nutrients, it’s amazing how much better you can feel.
If you’re not convinced that real food is the way to go and our current advice is making us sick not well then take a look at the studies listed here