The sugar story is heating up again with the release of Sugar Coated – a documentary aired by TVO. We’ve always known that sugar is a complicated nutritional issue and you can check out our previous posts tackling this tricky topic.
The documentary takes a slightly different path taking us on a historical journey starting with Great Western Sugar company in the 1970s. We learn about (recently) discovered confidential documents pointing to a PR campaign (from the 70s) that intended to downplay the health effects of sugar. There are also a number of references showing parallels to the tobacco industry. While it at times takes a tone of being ever so slightly conspiratorial, the evidence stands for itself: 74% of grocery store items contain added sugar and our intake of sugar has increased to approximately 19.5 tsp per day (US) compared with the recommended 6-9 teaspoons a day (WHO).
But here’s what we really love about pushing sugar back into the spotlight – it’s produced a website and a collaboration with the University of Toronto and the creation of a sugar finding app called One Sweet App. Sugar detectives, perhaps? It’s described as a sugar tracking app to help you identify how much added (or free) sugar is found in many common foods, something our current labelling regulations don’t distinguish (provides total sugar but doesn’t identify free/added sugar vs. naturally occurring sugars).
Is sugar poison? Is it toxic? Maybe. But newer evidence is still trickling in and despite some outspoken scientists and health professionals, it is difficult in a science-based field like nutrition to make statements with such certainty. Science is a field based on evidence that rarely shows such definitive answers. However, the physiology of the body’s response to sugar is fairly straightforward, if you consume excess sugar from any source (honey, white sugar, agave, cane juice, …) your body will metabolize this to use as fuel. With fructose (one half of a sugar molecule), however, it is almost exclusively metabolized by our liver. If the liver has an excessive amount of sugar (fructose) to metabolize, it will convert some of that sugar to fat resulting in (over time) a fatty liver (leading to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease). Yikes.
We know this means we can’t eat all the sugar we want and we must be more mindful of sources of sugar while keeping our intake of these foods moderate. The sugar guidelines outlined by the World Health Organization and by the Heart and Stroke Foundation offer some tangible guidelines for people to follow. (Translation: 6-12 tsp sugar (24-48g) per day approximately based on a 2000 calorie diet)
The Canadian government (and many other federal governments) do not currently have guidelines in place but the pressure is mounting for governments to take a stance. So, educate yourself and maybe take a look at this compelling documentary. It’s not about candy bars and cookies anymore – it is far more ubiquitous than we could have imagined.