Last month the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges called for a 20% tax on sugary drinks as part of a plan to combat obesity. Similar calls have been made by the charity Sustain who want 20p duty on a litre of sugary drinks.
This has already happened in Finland and France and New York State was about to ban supersize fizzy drinks before the Supreme Court got involved.
Why fizzy drinks and not cakes or biscuits? Well they have other things in them and might even contain protein and nutrients. With fizzy drinks it’s easy to consume calories with a can of Coke containing 10 teaspoons of sugar. Try putting that in your coffee!
The scary thing is that fruit juices, which you might consider a healthy alternative, also contain a lot of sugar. Smoothies (not so Innocent anyway as they are owned by Coca Cola now) and smooth squeezed orange juice have as much sugar as Coca Cola.
Dr Robert Lustig is a paediatric endocrinologist from the University of California and the author of “Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth about Sugar”. He wants to take the drinks manufacturers to court in the same way that tobacco firms were sued.
He pins the blame on fructose, a molecule that makes everything sweet whether white or brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup. Fructose isn’t the cause of obesity but the main cause of metabolic syndrome – the diseases associated with obesity like diabetes, high blood pressure, and CHD.
The worrying thing is that although 20% of obese people don’t get these diseases, 40% of normal weight people have the same diseases as if they were obese. And it’s because fructose is in everything and is a hypertoxin like alcohol. Our consumption of it has increased sixfold in the last century and doubled in the last 30 years. (See post on Alzheimer’s disease & diabetes)
Dr Lustig says (and I have to trust him on this, I’m a scientist but not a nutrition expert) that if you eat 120 calories of glucose, such as 2 slices of white bread, 80% of it is used by all the organs in the body and only 20% goes straight to the liver to be stored. Whereas if you consume 120 calories of fructose, say in a glass of orange juice, it all goes to the liver as nowhere else in the body can metabolise fructose.
There it causes liver fat, high blood pressure and high insulin levels amongst other things. It also makes you ant to drink more and be less active.
He says children should just drink water or milk. No fizzy drinks or juice. Plain fruit is OK as it comes with fibre (except grapes – which he calls little bags of sugar). The fibre forms a barrier to the intestine and slows down absorption to the liver or helps it go straight through the intestine.
Juicing removes the fibre and making smoothies means it has no fibre latticework and so goes straight to the liver. And we though we were being healthy!
And as my good friends at Quality for Life Fitness pointed out when I tweeted about this earlier, not all fruits are equal with berries being healthier for you, and there are additives in juice.
Fizzy drinks also contain additives like caffeine and sodium hidden by the sugary taste.These make you urinate a lot and want more (just like the early symptoms of diabetes). What makes them worse than fruit juice is that people tend to drink larger volumes of fizzy sodas (hence Mayor Bloomberg’s attempted ban of drinks larger than 16 oz in NYC).
The case for a sugary drinks tax is strong. Not only would it raise £1 billion a year but it would deter and educate people. The government has backed down on alcohol tax however so don’t hold your breath on this proposal.
Apart from dropping the sodas and fruit juices Lustig recommends more exercise and more fibre in your diet. You can also cut sugar by at least a third from baking recipes (I’ve already decided cupcakes are too sweet for my taste).
Primary Source: “The Fructose timebomb: it’s drinks that are making our children fat” in The Times2 March 13 2013