This Thursday on Channel 4, Jamie Oliver presents the first of a two part programme about sugar and its negative impact on health. He addresses how the consumption of sugar in the UK is contributing to the level of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and general health problems. He also uncovers how much added sugar is in some products which are considered 'healthy', and explores what needs to be done in the war against sugar related health problems.
I've only seen clips of the programme, but am guessing that Jamie will have only been able to scratch the surface of this issue. With the programme being made for viewing by the general public, Jamie probably aimed to use the shock factor, by looking at the worst cases of sugar related ill health in adults and children. Of course, this is vital in order to show people how much damage can be done. But, will it be enough to make people fully understand the extent of the problems associated with the UK population's sugar and carbohydrate guzzling habit? Will it really prompt people to ditch their breakfast cereal altogether in favour of eggs, meat and vegetables?
The trouble is, our whole idea of what we should be eating has been warped by convenience and modern living. NHS and government guidance such as the 'Eat Well Plate', focus too heavily on piling carbohydrate foods onto the plate, and promote carb loaded breakfasts. They fail to educate people about the types of carbohydrates, and the dangers of refined sugar and grain consumption. Of course, it is difficult to create blanket guidelines that will suit everyone and that will help maintain individual health.
Sugar is harming everyone, even those who are considered healthy and active.
At a basic level, sugar consumption makes it very easy to consume too many calories. Sugary foods induce a blood sugar spike, which promotes the release of insulin, resulting in the sugar either being taken up and used by the muscles (if they are active), or stored by the liver and as fat in the body. It is very easy to over consume sugary foods, as they provide little sustenance, meaning that you don't feel full for long and therefore will keep eating. Furthermore, the response to sugar can actually disturb the production of leptin, the hormone which helps regulate hunger. This is a big problem in obesity.
At a metabolic level, sugar is causing a whole host of damage. In a normal, healthy individual, the metabolism can cope with occasional consumption of refined sugar. However, if too much sugar is consumed regularly, the body begins to become resistant to the effect of insulin, this is known as insulin resistance. This means that the muscle, liver, and fat tissues find it increasingly difficult to take up the sugar. Consequently, the blood sugar level becomes higher than the normal range, and this is where big problems begin, as type 2 diabetes develops. The number of people in the UK with some form of insulin resistance is huge.
Refined sugar is an inflammatory substance. High blood sugar levels increase inflammation, which in turn damages blood vessels, accelerates the aging of the arteries, leading to heart disease and stroke. As well as this, damage to the eyes, the brain, and the kidneys can occur.
The problems are worsened by the fact that sugar is addictive to some people. This is becoming increasingly recognised in research, and more people are being diagnosed with binge eating disorders. Part of the problem is that we are biologically programmed to crave sugar for survival. In modern day society where sugar has become readily available, this craving has lead to mass over-consumption. It doesn't help matters when the food industry is geared towards making money from creating foods that stimulate the reward centre in our brains, driving us to crave more.
We are now becoming increasingly aware that sugar is more of a problem in terms of cardiovascular health than fat. Fat has long been given bad press for it's association with heart disease. However, research now shows that eating the right type of fat actually has a positive effect on cardiovascular health, and that fat should not be viewed as unhealthy. See my post on Good and Bad Fats for more information on this.
Jamie is campaigning for the government to introduce a sugar tax on soft drinks, to raise funds for healthy eating campaigns in schools. I think it's fantastic that this high profile chef is showing the population and the government where, in my opinion, the UK's biggest dietary issue lies. I just wish more radical changes could be enforced upon food manufacturers and retailers, to make more of an impact, now.
Stay tuned for more on the issues around sugar and carbohydrate over consumption on www.cleanfoodqueen.co.uk