SACN about sugar, the media and my story
It came to my attention that the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) has released a draft of report: Carbohydrates and Health, accompanied with the Public Health England’s paper: Sugar Reduction: Responding to the Challenge.
I have not read these yet, as I found out about them just yesterday, but I have noticed the media coverage of this topic, including the BBC article: How can I cut down on sugar written by Fergus Walsh. This article contains a video highlighting the amounts of sugar in our usual food items and how these compare to the new recommended limits.
What I have noticed in the materials was that they only see the sugar as the ‘major’ source of calories and also mentioning tooth decay as a consequence of added sugar consumption. Nothing about its metabolic effect, which is characteristic with release of insulin and enhanced storage of fat if this fat is consumed along or already available in the bloodstream. While the excess calories and the rotten teeth certainly are a problem, the metabolic properties of processed carbohydrates should not be forgotten as these are, in my opinion, at least equally responsible for ill health of the population as are their calories.
Mr Walsh ended the article that he will rather reach for a biscuit with his cup of coffee than for an apple. I am fine with that, if it was only one biscuit per day.
I do not want to moralize here about the wrong dietary choices. Instead I would like to present my own experience and journey from the sweet rubbish to the sweet health.
I have never been too slim or obese, although some extra weight was there since a certain period of my childhood age. I remember having problems with weight – being rather underweight up to a point I received B12 injections and from that I started to gain weight a little. This was about the time I was 5. Since then I do not remember being slim except of some extreme and rare periods of dieting when I was 17 and then at about the age of 28. My BMI is now 24 and this is only a result of focused management of my diet and increased physical activity.
As a single child of divorced parents, I remember having a plenty of sweet food items in the house. I was never short of having some waffles in my school bag and when going to spend a couple of weeks at my grand parents, I always had a bonanza of sweets in my luggage. I was instructed to have only a small amount each day otherwise I would finish my sweet goodness too early and having nothing later on. I remember eating out the stuff I liked the most at first and then finishing off the items I liked less, but I still managed to finish it before the end of my stay. And I was usually supplied more from other family members. In addition to this, my family liked baking and cooking, so there was almost always something to indulge on and this resulted in overweight or obesity of most of my family members from the mother’s side (men and women), including me.
What I want to share with you in this article is my journey from this unhealthy eating patterns to the healthier ones today. In contrary to Mr Walsh, I rarely have a biscuit with my coffee. I usually have coffee with breakfast, which is rarely sweet unless it contains – an apple. Once regularly having Horalka waffers (or similar) with the coffee as a breakfast in my previous career and seeing my weight slowly raising over a few years, I now tend to have a portion of cheesy oatcakes Nairns and an apple cut in quarters, with the peel on, just the core cut out. And I pay a lot of attention to get the most juicy, crunchy and basically fresh apples to enjoy them. I have learned to accompany the cheesy stuff (also the Wotsits which I do not consume so often today) with sweet-sour fruits as they taste great like this. I have stopped using any caloric sweetener (sugar, agave nectar, honey) in my morning coffee years ago, and replaced it with one or two Splenda sweetener tablets in most hot drinks.
News: today was the second day I have enjoyed my morning coffee without any sweetener, even the lactose in cows milk, because I use wholebean soya milk instead. And it tasted good, including the little residues of rather ‘neutral bitterness’ on my tongue from this beverage. In fact, this unsweetened coffee tasted so good that I went for another one, mixing it with a decaf version, to keep the caffeine levels within limits. My breakfast consisted of delicious slices of Czech bread, home made bryndza spread with spring onion chopped in it, one big tomato cut in wedges and about five radishes. sliced and placed on the bryndza spread. Delicious breakfast which makes me go until lunch. Full of nutrients, plant goodness, natural probiotics (the cheese was not treated by heat) and a great balanced feeling in my stomach. Although I feel satisfied, I cannot wait to have a smoothie later on. This smoothie will be made of about a cup of blackcurrants, fermented strawberry flavored milk (Kefir), banana and let’s see what else I will find in my fruit bowl in the kitchen.
I eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables today which form the biggest part of my shopping trolley, and except of the dark chocolate and some muesli bars for emergency situations, you will hardly find any usual sweets around me. I do have sugar in the kitchen cupboard, but a kilo can last for a year as I rarely use it. Long ago were gone the boiled or jelly sweets of all shapes. colours and flavors which I used to love so much. I turn a blind eye on the cake shelf in the supermarket and even the beautiful scent from the Gregg’s shop is not strong enough to drag me inside and enjoy one of their stuff. I still treat others (and they tend to treat me) with a box of chocolate, but I have already expressed my wish on several occasions not to continue with this practice anymore. I still love the taste of chocolate, but the physiological feeling after eating it is not as it used to be. I have learned listening to my body and thinking in advance what the consequences of consumption of such stuff will be. And this is not just the psychological guilt, it really is the recognition of my body response. In contrast, my body requires some fresh fruit or vegetable on repeated occasion every single day. When this urge is not met, I feel grumpy, unsatisfied and rather low.
What has happened? How I have managed all this? This transformation was a result of the mix of factors: learning of the metabolic effects of sugar and other highly processed carbohydrates, listening to my body, seeing the consequences on others, a desire to be healthy and functional until the old age, setting an example to others and beating the odds of following the diseases patterns of my family. Maintaining a healthy weight was also a very important reason. Today I can say that my body weight is pretty normal, my blood pressure is excellent and even the risk of pre-diabetes is non-existent (not saying that I ever had one). When I had my cholesterol checked (on demand) a couple of years ago, the doctor said that it was slightly elevated but of a healthy ratio. I have been consuming cod liver oil and I enjoy eating oily fish in general. I can say that I am healthier than any member of my family was at my age. And I am determined to keep it like this as far as I will have a control over my diet and health. The change you have seen is a proof that although there was an unlucky starting point in the childhood, one can achieve the change when being determined and focused, even when remaining in the sickness promoting environment full of temptations. By saying this, I do not want to place the responsibility on people only and making the industry innocent. This just means that people CAN do it, while I do recognize that many cannot and they need help from all directions.
A final word
In addition to what I have presented here I would like to write a few words about the expected trends on the population level after implementing the new SACN principles about sugar.
Sugar tastes good, sugar brings pleasure and people are programmed from the first suck from the breast to like sweetness. Or even before that: the amniotic fluid mirrors the diet of the mother and what the fetus experiences before the birth will determine its taste preferences in its later life. But the change can be achieved. It will take time, effort and determination. Education is also a very important part of this and without the education little can be achieved. People have to learn the principles of health, nutrition, food manufacturing and the industry principles. Parents must be an example to their children and these children then can be an example to their children and peers. People have to learn to distinguish between the false palatability of the processed foods and find their way back to the nature and its deliciousness. The result will be feeling great, healthy and fit.