Sugar has had a bad press recently, especially after campaign group Action on Sugar formed to tackle ‘hidden’ sugars in processed foods last month – but sugar industry proponents claim it should not be singled out as a leading culprit in the obesity crisis.
Major sugar producer AB Sugar approached FoodNavigator “to restore a sense of balance to the debate”, pointing out that sugar consumption – in the UK at least – has fallen over the past decade, even as obesity rates have continued to climb.
Indeed, added sugar intakes have declined about 9% in three years, to reach an average of 12.3% of total caloric intake in the UK, according to health department figures. That’s still higher than the 10% of calories from added sugars that the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends for optimal health, but Action on Sugar is targeting a 30% reduction in added sugars in an effort to reverse rising obesity trends.
“We have seen that sugar has been singled out as a lead cause of the obesity epidemic and we think this is quite misleading to consumers,” said AB Sugar communications manager Sharon Fisher. “If you consume too much of any calories you will put on weight.”
The role of sugar
AB Sugar’s head of food science Julian Cooper added that sugar can have a role to play in a healthy diet, a position that is not far from that of the British Dietetic Association (BDA). The BDA says that added sugar is not necessary for a healthy diet, but also that sugar is harmless in moderation.
“The role of sugar in a healthy balanced diet is to provide a range of palatable products,” said Cooper. “…We would not advocate a high sugar diet with soft drinks and chocolate bars, etc., but it does have a role to play. As you know, it provides more than just being sweet and calories. It provides texture and can act as a preservative, so it does have some interesting functional properties.”
When it comes to obesity, Cooper said: “There are too many calories being consumed, rather than just sugar per se.”
He and Fisher also both urged caution around reformulating to replace sugar, saying that even though sugar can be replaced, in some high fat foods, the total caloric content can actually go up.