How Sugar can Cause Emotional and Physical Ill Health.
Sofie called me over Christmas and was distraught – after thinking she was recovering well after a period of high anxiety and panic attacks, she had another panic attack, felt spaced out and tearful. Following a few questions I soon realised that the escalated anxiety was down to what she had eaten. Feeling so much better Sofie had let go of the food advice I had given and tucked into trifle, chocolates and a couple of glasses of wine. Three hours later her heart was racing and beating like a drum, she felt emotional and ‘really wobbly.’
When a person has high anxiety it is likely they are going to be reactive to sugar and can suffer a whole host of related symptoms. So if you or someone you know has high anxiety they may well respond well to a change in diet – read the great Sunday Times article below to understand more. And how some big companies who interests lay with protecting and building profit, so are preventing the spread of knowledge of the damage effects sugar can cause!
Two years ago Lucy Miller, a 31-year-old fitness and diet coach from Bromley in southeast London, decided to quit sugar. Added sugar is one of the key staples in the modern diet, from sweetened cereals to soups to sauces. For Miller that meant that biscuits, cakes, sweetened breakfast cereals and even fruit juice would be on the banned list.
It was so difficult she turned to hypnotherapy to help her kick the habit. She soon suffered withdrawal symptoms, however, in the form of headaches and mild anxiety.
“I was an avid exerciser so I wasn’t overweight but I would snack on Haribo sweets and chocolate,” she said. “I was hyperactive and I found I would have a sugar crash afterwards and I always had puffy bags under my eyes.”
Miller has stuck to her new regime ever since, switching to a Paleolithic, or “caveman”, diet of unprocessed foods that she credits with boosting her energy levels and helping her complexion. “People used to tell you not to eat fat but it soon became clear to me that it was sugar that was the problem,” she said.
On average we consume more than 700g of sugar a week, either when added to drinks or when contained within food substances. This is the equivalent to 140 teaspoons of the substance.
Miller is among a growing number of people who suspect it may be the culprit for poor health, from a lack of energy to more serious conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. For many contemplating their new year resolutions and unhealthy diets, sugar will be in their sights.
This is not just the latest dietary fad. There is growing evidence that sugar may be a greater threat to health than we previously thought. A report published earlier this year found that for every additional 150 calories of sugar consumed per day the prevalence of diabetes rose 1%.
The Sunday Times has also established that earlier this year a World Health Organisation (WHO) expert panel agreed a draft proposal that individuals should limit sugar to 5% of their total energy intake, which is half the figure agreed a decade ago.
Professor Philip James, president of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, said he expected the WHO would now suggest adjusting the recommendations it issues to governments on sugar consumption. In this country that could affect NHS guidelines on healthy eating and the colour- coding system on packaging that denotes levels of energy, salt, sugar and fat.
However, James also predicted that the corporate interests within the affected industries would strongly resist.
Sugar companies have an obvious interest in undermining recommendations that negatively depict the volume of their product in food production. Food and drink firms such as Kraft and Coca-Cola, meanwhile, are worried by the prospect of a drop in sales of brands such as Coke whose sweet taste has proved so popular with the public over decades.
“The food industry will do everything in their power to undermine the validity of the science,” said James. “They will say that actually it is unnecessary to reduce the limit because diet is down to personal choice.”
This battle between the industry and the academics has been enacted over more than three decades. What is the risk from the extra sugar liberally added to so many of our foods? And should we all be cutting back?
Shortly before the end of a meeting of some of the world’s top nutritional advisers last month in Copenhagen, held under the auspices of the WHO, copies of a document were circulated to the room. It was the proposed advice to governments around the world about the levels of sugar we should be ingesting.
“They circulated it right at the end of a meeting,” said one of those present. “About 20 minutes before we went to the airport they circulated a paper version of the recommendation and then took them back from us so we couldn’t have it. They are very scared about it.”
The recommendation by a sub-panel of the WHO’s nutrition guidance expert advisory group was made after the panel studied a report by Professor Paula Moynihan at Newcastle University that advises sugar consumption should be cut to reduce tooth decay. The panel, however, also considered the mounting evidence of the link between sugar and obesity.
The last time the WHO recommended a limit on the amount of sugar in the diet was in 2003 and it resulted in an assault by the sugar industry. America’s Sugar Association wrote to the WHO warning it would “exercise every avenue available to expose the dubious nature” of the report. It also said it would challenge the WHO’s £260m funding from the US government.
Now WHO officials are bracing themselves for a similar assault. Its draft recommendation for sugar intake was formally agreed in China a few months before the Copenhagen meeting and it said: “WHO recommends reduction of free sugars intake to 5% or less of total energy.”
The battle to limit the amount of sugar in our diet has been welcomed by Professor Robert Lustig, a paediatric endocrinologist and author of Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar. He said: “Sugar is addictive — not as addictive as tobacco or alcohol, but if it’s everywhere you can’t get rid of it. The food industry knows when they add it to food you buy more.”
According to Lustig it is also toxic. He says fructose — one of the main sources of added sugar — is primarily metabolised by the liver, which turns it into fat that can then lead to diseases such as diabetes.
Lustig has over the past few years transformed consumer attitudes to sugar. The video of his lecture Sugar: The Bitter Truth has had more than 4m viewings since it was first posted on YouTube in 2009.
The sugar industry has been dismissive of his theories. Leading the way is Sugar Nutrition UK, funded principally by the country’s sugar industry, including British Sugar, which is owned by Associated British Foods, a company that made £435m in profit from its sugar business in 2013.
“Sugar is neither toxic nor addictive”, said a Sugar Nutrition UK statement, “and does not cause any of the diseases associated with metabolic syndrome [a medical term for a group of risk factors that raise the chance of heart disease and other health problems].”
Lustig is not the first academic to speak out. In 1972 the British scientist John Yudkin wrote the book Pure, White and Deadly, which questioned whether there was any causal link between fat and heart disease. He highlighted the association between the consumption of sugar and heart disease and diabetes, and asked whether it might be sugar that was to blame.
“If only a small fraction of what we know about the effects of sugar were to be revealed in relation to any other material used as a food additive”, he wrote, “that material would promptly be banned.”
The sugar industry responded to concerns over excessive consumption with a concerted campaign to allay any health concerns. Big firms including Imperial Sugar, Domino Sugar and the Amalgamated Sugar Company provided funds for organisations such as the Sugar Association to counter any damaging allegations made by independent scientists.
Another body created was the World Sugar Research Organisation (WSRO), based in London and described as a global scientific research organisation funded by the sugar industry. When Pure, White and Deadly went out of print the WSRO — of which Coca-Cola, British Sugar and Tate & Lyle are members — circulated a bulletin that said of the book: “Readers of science fiction will no doubt be distressed to learn that according to the publishers the above work is out of print and no longer obtainable.”
In 1998 an expert committee set up by the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations examined issues of carbohydrates in human nutrition. Its final report did not set any upper limit for carbohydrate consumption, which includes sugar, and its press release stated: “Experts see no harm in sugar — good news for kids.”
A BBC Panorama investigation subsequently discovered some of the work had been funded by the WSRO and the International Life Sciences Institute, a research group funded by Coca-Cola, Kraft and other companies.
Earlier this year Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, ave the most stark warning yet about the machinations of the food industry. Speaking at a conference in Helsinki, Chan compared their tactics to those employed by the big tobacco firms, which for years dismissed scientific evidence that cigarettes were bad for health.
“It is not just Big Tobacco any more,” she said. “Public health must also contend with Big Food, Big Soda and Big Alcohol. All of these industries fear regulation and protect themselves by using the same tactics. Research has documented these tactics well. They include front groups, lobbies, promises of self-regulation, lawsuits and industry-funded research that confuses the evidence and keeps the public in doubt.”
Sources close to the WHO committee suspect it is the fear of these tactics from the food industry that is behind the delay of its latest report. The sugar industry argues it is being unfairly demonised by the campaign against sugar and points out that it is down to the individual what they eat.
The Sugar Association argues sugar added to yoghurts and other goods encourages children to eat healthy foods they would otherwise find unpalatable. Its website states: “Dietary guidance that fuels sugar hysteria has the real potential of undermining the public health goal of healthy diets, especially for children.”
Whatever the final report says, consumers are already taking note.
Miller said she had never looked back from her decision to quit sugar two years ago and believes it transformed her life: “I didn’t realise until I tried to quit that it’s so hard to escape sugar. You pop into the local shop to buy something and there are rows of chocolate — temptation is everywhere.”
Saturated fat is scapegoat
For years fat was the dieter’s bugbear. Now many are turning their sights on a new target: sugar. Gloria Hunniford, the 73-year-old television presenter, said last week that she had switched to a low-carb, sugar-free diet after a diagnosis of high blood pressure and being told she had a high risk of developing diabetes.
“Until recently, fats in our food have been public enemy No 1,” she said. “But more and more experts now believe that sugar is worse.”
Others have already signed up to the sugar-free philosophy. “I believe 100% that sugar is the issue, not fat,” says Amanda Hamilton, 39, a British nutritionist. “Scientists like [Robert] Lustig are my rock stars. I was studying in America and seeing students who were too big to walk around campus but there was soda [fizzy drinks] everywhere. I had a lightbulb moment when I started researching sugar. I felt like I had been conned with these diet cereals and low-fat foods. Processed, refined sugars are ridiculously bad for you. Our bodies just don’t know what the hell it is.”
The medical profession is also questioning whether saturated fat was wrongly targeted as a significant dietary health risk.
Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist at Croydon University Hospital in London, wrote an article in the British Medical Journal in October headlined Saturated Fat Is Not The Major Issue.
Malhotra says saturated fat was demonised after a landmark study in the 1970s showing a correlation between consumption and heart disease. He says recent studies have not supported this association and instead have found saturated fat to be protective.
In response to the article, Professor David Haslam, chairman of Britain’s National Obesity Forum, said: “The assumption has been made that increased fat in the bloodstream is caused by increased saturated fat in the diet, whereas modern scientific evidence is proving that refined carbohydrates — and sugar in particular — are actually the culprits.”