Most people know that sugar is bad for your teeth, but so many people are unaware that it is the primary culprit in piling on the pounds and especially the fat that accumulates around our middles. Hopefully the recent documentary aired on RTE1 called Sugar Crash will help correct this huge misconception. It was an excellent documentary and I think an eye opener for many people. You can watch it here:
The documentary focused on the sugar in foods (whether from added sugar or naturally occurring sugar in foods like fruit or dairy products). The way this was calculated by by looking at the amount of carbohydrates on a food label. For example, looking at a label on a pot of 125g of Glenisk low fat strawberry yoghurt, it says that it has 18g of carbohydrates of which 14g sugars. Looking at the ingredients list, you will see that the third ingredient is organic sugar – just because it says “organic” sugar doesn’t make it healthy! Four grams of carbs equates to one teaspoon so this little pot of yoghurt has 3.5 teaspoons of sugar and there are many that are marketed to children that are much worse..The programme ignored carbs that did not come from sugar. However, these carbs still count – they turn into sugar in our blood and if not used up as energy are turned into fat in our bodies. A better option for yoghurt would be Glenisk’s natural whole full fat yoghurt – the ingredient list does not feature sugar and the total carbs in 100g of yoghurt is 9g. This one would be fine from phase two of Atkins on. See our article on counting carbs for more information on reading nutrition labels as well as a list of the many names for sugar used on labels.
As demonstrated on the program, sugar is found in fizzy drinks, cordials as well as perceived healthy drinks like fruit smoothies. It is also found in so many savoury foods – everything from soups, sauces, currys, breakfast cereals and many many more. They even add sugar to packets of cooked ham or chicken and foods like tinned peas! The sugar content of food comes as a surprise to most people when they start looking at food labels. According to the program, we eat an average of 24 teaspoons of added sugar in Ireland a day (which would be 96g of carbs). Again on Atkins we are reducing the total amount of carbs as all carbs turn into glucose in our body and when not used as energy, it turns to fat. For example, Brennans Whole grain bread does not contain any added sugar but it does have 33g of carbs in just two slices.. However, sugar is the worst type of carbohydrate and this is exactly what is eliminated on the Atkins diet. Our sugar cravings are eliminated along with it, making this a lifestyle change that is easier to stick to long term. One place where I felt the program fell down was in just saying to cut down the sugar without giving any alternatives. Atkins does give you something to replace the sugar with – delicious healthy real fats – this is what makes meals tasty and filling and this makes this way of eating sustainable.
Sugar Crash did a good job of highlighting how serious a health issue this really is in Ireland. Here were some of the facts quoted in program were:
- 37% of the population overweight and a further 23% obese. (Healthy Ireland 2015)
- Almost half (46%) of men aged 35 and over in Ireland are overweight and a further 32% are obese. The equivalent figures for women are 35% overweight and a further 27% obese.(Healthy Ireland 2015)
- A recent Safefood study suggested that the total of the direct and indirect costs of adult obesity in the Republic of Ireland is €1.13 billion annually accounting for 2.7% of the total health expenditure (Safefood study 2012)
- 1 in 4 children is overweight or obese. Obese children are likely to become obese adults.
Apparently Irish people were the slimmest in Europe just after World War 2 and are predicted to be the fattest in Europe by 2030. And for the first time ever, children are likely to have a shorter lifespan than their parents because of health problems related to being overweight. The program also highlighted other serious health issues that happen as a result of eating so much sugar; it causes non alcoholic fatty liver disease, it causes insulin resistance which often leads to type two diabetes and it is bad for heart health. The program followed the Ryan family from Kilkenny who undertook a challenge to reduce their sugar intake for 30 days. Ollie Ryan’s cholesterol profile improved significantly purely by reducing the sugar – yes his sugar intake, not fat or foods high in cholesterol! Read our article on the Real Heart Healthy Foods for more on this.
All of this makes for sobering viewing/reading. However, the thing that gives me hope is that at least part of the real cause of this crisis has been identified and has begun to be identified in the mainstream. This program was certainly a step in the right direction. At the moment, so many people are still under the illusion that its the real fats in their food that is making them fat, so they go out and buy everything that says “Low fat” on the label but as the program demonstrated, these foods are even higher in carbs which means they are really working against themselves. Your body has to use all of this as energy before it switches to using fat for fuel – even if you are a really active sports person, it would take huge amounts of exercise to burn off this level of carbs.
I have to say however that I was surprised how unaware Dr. Eva Orsmond was when it came to the amounts of carbs in foods. She says quite openly on the program that she was surprised at the amount of added sugar in products in her kitchen (which even included a box of Frosties!). I find this shocking for a health professional particularly one with a focus on obesity. It is also clear that she still subscribes to the view that it is all about ‘calories in, calories out’. The point was made clearly on the program that this is not the case. Our bodies doe not treat calories from broccoli the same as it treats calories from sweets or coca cola! However many health professionals still believe this is true. Dr. Eva Orsmond interviewed an Australian actor named Damon Gameau who did an experiment where he ate foods that would be perceived as healthy like juice, cereal and sports drinks for 60 days. Damon developed fatty liver disease within just a few weeks and also suffered from mental instability. He kept the the same number of calories as he had eaten prior to this but gained 10cm (or almost 4 inches) around his waist. Dr. Eva commented that she found it hard to believe he ate the same number of calories as he had previously! I think that so many people including healthcare professionals and dieticians are so firmly convinced that it’s all about the calories and that fat is the enemy despite all the evidence to the contrary, that it makes it difficult for them to consider an alternative. Perhaps, this documentary is the first step for Eva and hopefully many of the viewers in taking that first step in the paradigm shift needed. Irish people need to do this for themselves and their children and health care professionals need to do it for their patients if we are to end this crisis and avoid being the fattest people in Europe in a few short years.