New sugar limits for sweet foods and snacks have been published today, in a bid to get food manufacturers to reduce the sugar content of products by 20% over the next 3 years.
Public Health England (PHE) announced new targets for the food industry in face of rising levels of childhood obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. NHS figures reported last week show a 24% increase in toddler tooth extractions over the past decade, largely due to children eating more and more sugar.
The new sugar reduction proposals suggest 3 ways for manufacturers to meet the targets;
Cut sugar levels by 20% across all products
Promote ‘no added’ or ‘low sugar’ alternatives
Cut overall calories or reduce the portion size
These proposals are entirely voluntary and whilst some manufacturers are embracing the changes, well aware of the fact that this cannot be avoided and voluntary measures are likely to be more lenient than legislation will be, others are stalling for time and protesting the moves.
Will the proposals work?
Cutting sugar levels across all products is undoubtedly a strong step in the right direction for improving public health. But, when you take something away you have to offer a viable alternative: cue the ‘low sugar’ alternative foods. A potential problem here may be the inclusion of more salt or more processed fats to maintain the texture and satiety of the product.
Sugar, salt and fat are the magic triage of ingredients used in processed foods to achieve maximum levels of taste and ‘feel’ – the ‘bliss effect’ – when eating. Remove one of the triple and you have to add more of the others to maintain the status quo.
What about artificial sweeteners?
Cutting sugar levels almost certainly means an increased reliance on artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and aesculfame. These compounds are 200 times sweeter than regular sugar and are currently widely used in many sugar free products like chewing gums and sugar-free soft drinks.
The safety of these chemicals remains highly controversial. Much of the evidence promoting their safe use is industry funded and frequently conducted on animals – the human digestive process and nervous system differ in many ways to that of animals!
Newer research has shown the negative effect artificial sweeteners have on our beneficial gut bacteria. Our microbiome comes into direct contact with the breakdown products of sweeteners in the digestive tract, and in the case of aspartame, the main breakdown product is formaldehyde – a recognised carcinogen to humans, and most commonly known as embalming fluid!
A healthy, nourished microbiome plays a major role in regulating immunity and inflammation, as well as influencing nutrient absorption and the production of certain vitamins, namely vitamin K and certain B-vitamins. Imbalances in gut bacteria are, ironically, linked to disturbed metabolism and obesity – the very health issues we are trying to combat.
Artificial sweeteners also account for a significant amount of food sensitivity reactions in both adults and children. Pushing more of these chemicals into our food chain puts us at risk of myriad side effects and is certainly not the answer to the obesity problem.
So how do we reduce sugar?
Rather than relying on food manufacturers who have only profits in mind, take your own steps to sugar reduction. Start slowly, and gradually phase out sugar and artificial sweeteners to allow your taste buds to adjust.
Simple swaps include;
– Replace standard breakfast cereals with Overnight Oats or homemade granola sweetened with maple syrup. No time to make your own granola? Marks & Spencer offer a granola base sweetened with a small amount of apple juice and honey.
– Replace fruit juice and fizzy drinks with fruit water: add fruit slices (lemon, pomegranate, lime, orange) to filtered water.
– Replace white bread with wholegrain, or look for bread alternatives such as oatcakes, buckwheat crackers, or nori sheets to make wraps with.
– Dried fruits are a concentrated source of sugar but their high fibre content helps slow down its absorption into your bloodstream. Snack on a palmful of dried fruits and mixed nuts, or keep Nak’d bars in your bag / glove box / desk drawer.
– For an after dinner sweet hit try Pukka Herbs Liquorice & Cinnamon tea: liquorice is up to 50 times sweeter in taste than sugar and the cinnamon supports healthy blood sugar balance.
– Make sure to combine good quality protein with healthy fats and slow releasing carbohydrates at each meal to support steady, sustained energy levels and reduce sweet cravings.
Struggling to break the sugar habit? Take a look at the 4 Week Flourish and 8 Week Positive Change Plans to see how we can work together to turn your health around!
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