Sweet enemy?
Sweet enemy?

Like fat in the 90s, sugar is this decade's public health enemy No. 1.

The World Health Organisation recently identified sugar as a culprit in obesity and disease, and its association with weight gain and diabetes is well documented. But just how much do we, and should we, consume?

"Most people would say that they eat none or very little sugar because they don't add sugar to their tea and rarely eat sweets," says David Gillespie (davidgillespie.org), author of the bestselling yet polarising book, Sweet Poison (Penguin).

"But the vast majority of the sugar we now consume is not the sugar we add ourselves - it's found in breakfast cereals where even the 'healthy ones' are one-third sugar. It is in the orange juice we drink with our cereal and the sauce we add to our bacon-and-egg sandwich."

Mr Gillespie believes in an all-or-nothing approach to sugar.

"In order to dump sugar from your diet you need to treat it like the addictive substance that it is. You won't dump it by going on a diet. You need to change your mindset and go cold turkey where you should expect two to four weeks of cravings and headaches before emerging without an addiction," Mr Gillespie says.

NutritionWorks dietitian Emily Eaton disagrees, believing sugar has been unfairly demonised.

"It's a very easy message to sell to single out one nutrient and blame the nation's health issues on it. This often results in confusion and a very black-and-white view of food," says Ms Eaton, who adds it is the dose that is most important. "The amount and frequency of consumption of any food is what determines its impact on your health. I don't believe in avoiding sugars altogether because carbohydrates are a necessary part of our diet and all types of sugars come under the carbohydrate umbrella."

Ms Eaton recommends meeting carbohydrate needs with high-nutrient options such as yoghurt, fruit, porridge, muesli and milk rather than foods laden with hidden sugars such as soft drinks, iced tea, vitamin waters, fruit juices, flavoured milks, sauces and high-sugar, low-fibre breakfast cereals.

"Attempting to avoid sugars entirely can often result in an increased desire for such foods, guilt and anxiety associated with eating and all-or-nothing eating behaviours," Ms Eaton says.

Nutritionist Angela Ferguson, of Vital Nutrition, believes that there is no harm in moderate sugar consumption.

"I strongly believe that you need to be nourished in so many ways and having a little sugar here and there is not detrimental to most people's overall health. I promote a balanced, wholefoods diet that isn't like the fat revolution of the nineties or the paleo versus vegan competition that is currently rife," she says.

"I'm also concerned about the new revolution of 'clean eating' where young women, in particular, seem to be competing with each other under the belief that to be nourished they must eat 'clean' foods with no sugar, gluten or dairy. It's an extreme and unnecessary approach."

The West Australian

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