The Commons’ Health Committee said there was now “compelling evidence” a tax would reduce consumption.
Its report, which puts pressure on ministers who have so far been resisting a tax, also proposes a crackdown on marketing and advertising.
Food industry representatives say a new tax would be unfair on consumers.
The government will be setting out its plans early next year when it publishes a child obesity strategy, but has said a tax is not something it favours.
The cross-party group of MPs acknowledged no single measure would provide a solution to the problem.
But the committee’s report said calls for a tax could “no longer be ignored”.It pointed to evidence from Mexico which introduced a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks of 10% and saw a 6% reduction in consumption.
The MPs urged the government to use the strategy to take strong action on the issue, pointing out that a fifth of children start primary school overweight or obese, rising to a third by the time they leave.
As well as a tax, the committee called for:
A crackdown on price promotions of unhealthy foods Tougher controls on marketing, including the use of cartoon characters to promote unhealthy food A ban on advertising unhealthy foods on television before 21:00 Clearer labelling of products showing sugar content in teaspoons A drive to force industry to reduce sugar in food and drink as has happened with salt
The MPs said the government in England should work with its counterparts in the rest of the UK on these points.
There has been growing concern about the damaging impact of sugar on health – from the state of people’s teeth to type-2 diabetes and obesity Sugar has been dubbed “empty calories” because it has no nutritional benefit Government advisers recommend no more than 5% of daily calories should come from sugar That is about 1oz (25g) – six or seven teaspoons – for an adult of normal weight every day. For children, it is slightly less The limits apply to all sugars added to food, as well as sugar naturally present in syrups and honey To put this in context, a typical can of fizzy drink contains about nine teaspoons of sugar
Public Health Minister Jane Ellison said: “This government is committed to turning the tide on childhood obesity. That is why we are developing a comprehensive strategy looking at all the factors, including sugar consumption, that contribute to a child becoming overweight and obese. This will be published in the coming months.”Share this:
We now know that chillies are also a good source of antioxidants. Forty-two grams of the spice would account for your recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, although admittedly that would make for a pretty strong curry. They are also rich in vitamin A, as well as minerals such as iron and potassium.
Capsaicin has even been touted as a potential weight-loss tool. Research conducted this year by the University of Wyoming on mice that had been fed a high-fat diet found that the molecule increased metabolic activity in the animals, causing them to burn more energy and preventing weight gain. In another study, published last month in Plos One, researchers at the University of Adelaide found that the receptors in the stomach that interact with capsaicin play a role in sensing when we are full.
But what about heart disease and cancer? The recent study in China found a correlation between the consumption of spicy food and lower rates of death from those diseases – and laboratory research from the last 10 years suggests some possible reasons for that too.
In 2012, a team of nutritionists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, working with hamsters, found that capsaicin helped break down so-called “bad” cholesterol which might have clogged up the animals’ arteries, but it left alone the “good” cholesterol which helps remove it. There was a second benefit for cardiac health too – the capsaicin appeared to block the action of a gene that makes arteries contract, restricting blood flow.
Several studies have also indicated that capsaicin has powerful anti-cancer properties. It has been found to be helpful in fighting human prostate and lung cancer cells in mice, and there are also indications that it could be used as a treatment for colon cancer. It may also improve drug resistance for bile-duct cancer sufferers.
But before people make any radical changes to their diet, they are advised to wait for a clinical trial to be conducted using humans, not rodents.
“There are a lot of reports that say that capsaicin may be good for human health, especially with cancer,” says Zigang Dong at the Hormel Institute of the University of Minnesota. “However, there are other reports that show totally the opposite result.”
Dong is the co-author of a 2011 review, published in the journal Cancer Research, titled The Two Faces of Capsaicin, in which claims about the spice’s benefits for health are laid alongside a long list of counter-claims, pointing to negative effects.
The report details six studies on rats and mice in which the animals developed signs of cancer in the stomach or liver after their diet was changed to include more capsaicin. Meanwhile, studies examining the effects of capsaicin on the human stomach have delivered wildly divergent results. While one showed visible gastric bleeding after consumption of red pepper, another showed no abnormalities, even when ground jalapeno peppers were placed directly in the stomach.
“Probably it is harmful in the stomach or oesophagus because capsaicin itself can cause inflammation,” says Dong. “And if anything can cause inflammation or so-called burning effect, it must cause some cell deaths and therefore the long-term chronic inflammation is maybe harmful.”
Far from seeing the chilli’s piquancy as an evolutionary “trick” that we are clever enough to see through, as Joshua Tewksbury does, he sees it as a hint to eat the food in moderation – a hint that many of us are ignoring.
Capsaicin – and the chilli pepper – remains enigmatic. But whether it is a friend or foe, we’re exposing ourselves to it more and more. Between 1991 and 2011, global consumption of dry chillies increased by 2.5% per year, while our per capita intake increased by 130% in that time.
“There’s a worldwide huge consumption of this spice, or vegetable, or whatever you want to call it,” says Dong. “It’s consumed everywhere in the world. Therefore its impact is huge for human health.”Capsaicin – a natural painkiller
Capsaicin creams and patches are available in chemists to ease pain. But it’s only in the past 20 years that we have come to understand the contradiction of how something that causes pain can ease it too.
Capsaicin binds to the pain receptor TRPV1, which our brains also use to detect changes in temperature – that’s why we think chillies are hot.
But after being over-stimulated the neurons stop responding, killing the pain. This process involves the release of endorphins, which can give us a “rush” not dissimilar from the feeling of having exercised well. This may explain why some people believe that hot food is addictive.Share this:
The move which they say would have prevented about 2,000 cases of serious birth defects since 1998.
The failure to fortify flour has caused serious disabilities, including spina bifida, and resulted in terminations and stillbirths, their study said. The US and 77 other countries already have a policy in place.
The Department of Health said it was currently considering the matter. The Scottish government has urged UK ministers to take a quick decision on the issue in order to agree a uniform approach across the UK.
This follows the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recently saying it was in favour of folic acid being added to flour for bread in the UK.
Folate (the natural form of folic acid) is found in some foods, such as green vegetables, nuts and granary bread.
Folic acid is added to some breakfast cereals, but it is very difficult for pregnant women to get enough from diet alone.
That is why in 1992, the Department of Health in England recommended that women take folic acid supplements before pregnancy to reduce their risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect (NTD) – which involve defects of the brain, spine or spinal cord.
But recent research shows that only 28% of pregnant women take them at the correct time.
However, the government has so far been reluctant to force manufacturers to add folic acid to all bread.
This study, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, said the current policy was not working and the UK should be following the example of the US in fortifying flour with folic acid.
The US has seen a 23% fall in pregnancies with neural tube defects since the policy was introduced in 1998.
The researchers estimated that a similar policy in the UK would have prevented 1,798 pregnancies with NTD in England and Wales, 152 in Scotland and 64 in Northern Ireland over a 14-year period up to 2012.This equates to a fall of 21% in pregnancies with neural tube defects over that period.
While most of the NTD pregnancies are terminated, around 75 babies a year are born with serious disabilities.
The research team, led by Prof Joan Morris from the Wolfson Institute of Preventative Medicine at Queen Mary University of London, said putting folic acid in flour was safe and could only be a good thing.
“Europe is the only region not to have a policy of fortifying flour with folic acid, despite evidence that it can cut the risk of neural tube defects by around 70%.” Reaching more womenShare this:
Antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria can lurk in the meat we eat because of excessive use of antibiotics for farming, according to the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance.
If we eat it raw or undercooked, there is a risk – albeit small – that we might catch these hard-to-treat infections and become ill.
Bacteria are constantly evolving and can learn how to dodge the drugs we use.
Over-reliance on antibiotic drugs in any setting can lead to resistance. Regular use of antibiotics in food animals creates the ideal conditions for the emergence of resistant bacteria.
Weak, susceptible bacteria die off, while the antibiotic-resistant bacteria thrive.
Humans can catch these bacteria if they come into close contact with the animals – farmers, for example – or if they eat the infected meat.
While most cases of food poisoning, although unpleasant, do not need treatment, some people may need to take antibiotics. And if the bacteria responsible are already resistant to these drugs then it makes treating the infection difficult. How can I check the meat I eat is safe?
If you eat meat, the safest way to consume it is well cooked – steaming hot all the way through and any juices run clear. This kills any bacteria that might be present.
Health Direct says it is safe to serve steak and other whole cuts of beef and lamb rare (not cooked in the middle) or blue (seared on the outside) as long as they have been properly sealed (cooked quickly at a high temperature on the outside only) to kill any bacteria on the meat’s surface.
The report in the Lancet Infectious Diseases showed resistance in a fifth of animals tested, 15% of raw meat samples and in 16 patients. Can we stop the use?
In the UK, nearly half of all antibiotics used are in farming. We cannot stop all antibiotic use in food animals. The drugs are useful for reducing animal disease and suffering. But experts say there is massive scope for curbing their use.
Denmark remains one of the biggest exporters of pork in the world but has greatly reduced its levels of antibiotic use in livestock.
As well as reducing the quantity of use, more restrictions are needed on the types of antibiotics used in animals, the government report says.
Countries need to come together and agree to restrict or even ban the use in animals of antibiotics that are important for humans, it adds.Share this:
It is an approach that has worked before, with salt – but can the trick be repeated?
Fifty years ago, everyday products, from bread to tinned vegetables, had much higher salt levels. Then, the government got involved and targets were set. A typical loaf of bread now has 40% less salt than it did in the 1980s, with about a 10% reduction in just the past three years.
The gradual changes went largely unnoticed by consumers and led to an adjustment in the nation’s palate.
Now, Public Health England says a similar programme for sugar – in products such as biscuits, cakes, puddings, yoghurts, cereals and drinks – along with reductions in portion size, would have positive health benefits.
A 50% reduction in the amount of sugar from these foods would lower sugar intakes for adults from 12% to 9% of energy and for children and teenagers from about 15% to 10%.
Some food and drink companies have already reduced the sugar content of some products in large steps, maintaining sweetness by adding a no- or low-calorie sweetener.
In fact, one of the expanding areas of food manufacturing is alternatives to sugar – there are many natural and artificial alternatives on the market.
One plant, Stevia, is 200 times as sweet with none of the calories. Unheard of four years ago, it is already used in dozens of big brands such as Heinz ketchup and baked beans, Coca Cola Life and Sprite. Often, it is introduced gradually, and buried away deep in the ingredients list.
Olivier Kutz, from Pure Circle, which produces Stevia products, says some brands or manufacturers will list it clearly on the label. “Others choose not to shout about it for various reasons – it could be because it’s an everyday product and they don’t want to confuse consumers,” he says.
Some consumers are wary about artificial sweeteners – aspartame was removed from Diet Pepsi in the US earlier this year after concerns about potential side-effects. Frighten customers
And there is another problem with removing sugar from recipes – it causes technical problems.
At Nottingham Trent University, food scientists experiment with baking cakes with different levels of sugar and artificial sweeteners – the results, in terms of taste and appearance, are mixed.
Senior food lecturer Christine Walker says: “Sugar has functions within the recipe, as most things do. Of course it provides sweetness and adds to the pleasant flavour, but it also adds texture to it and it also has a caramelising effect so it browns, so it’s aesthetically pleasing. We eat with our eyes, so if it doesn’t look good, we’re not going to eat it. So it has those things and and if you start to take sugar away from it, those things may well be changed.”
The government report suggests that for some confectionery, portion-size reduction may be an easier way of cutting down on sugar levels.
In the meantime, Ms Walker and her team will keep experimenting. “You can take it out. It’s whether customers will buy it, because that’s the bottom line isn’t it? It’s one of those things, trial and error. But the customer says they want less so we try very hard to do that,” she says.
If obesity is – as the government says – the biggest public health threat facing our children, then we might have to accept the food we buy will have to change. And the companies selling us the stuff may have to work harder to come up with recipes that are not just good for our palette but our waistline too.Share this:
Derived from a plant called Synsepalum dulcificum, it is unlike any artificial sugar – because it works not by making foods sweeter, but by making them taste sweeter.
The so-called miracle berries contain a molecule called miraculin which binds to receptors on your tongue, changing their shape. This makes sour foods taste sweeter. One advantage of temporarily changing your taste buds, rather than the food itself, could be the effect this has on your gut bacteria.
For years now there has been a vigorous debate as to whether using artificial sugars will help you lose weight or not. A recent meta-analysis which looked at the results of more than 100 different human studies concluded that when artificial sweeteners replace sugar in the diet (rather than simply being added on top) then this can lead to weight loss.
The Harvard School of Public Health, however, points out that there are lots of conflicting studies, including those which suggest that drinking artificially sweetened drinks may increase your risk, not just of weight gain, but of type 2 diabetes.
No-one really knows how artificial sugars could do this but a study done by a group in Israel suggests it might be via the impact of artificial sugar on your gut bacteria.
In this study, published last year in the science journal, Nature, the Israeli researchers asked a group of lean and healthy volunteers who didn’t normally use artificial sweeteners to consume the maximum acceptable dose for a week.
At the end of the week half the volunteers were showing signs of glucose intolerance, an early step in the journey to type 2 diabetes. The researchers think this could be because the bacteria in their guts reacted to the artificial sugars by secreting substances that cause inflammation. This is certainly what they have seen in animals.
As one of the researchers, Dr Eran Elinav, put it: “Our relationship with our own individual mix of gut bacteria is a huge factor in determining how the foods we eat affects us.” Clearly not a fan of artificial sweeteners, he went on to add that there should be a “reassessment of today’s massive, unsupervised consumption of these substances”.
Whatever the health effects or otherwise of artificial sweeteners, consumers are wary of them, which is where those promoting the joys of natural miracle berries hope to score. The trouble is that the berries are expensive to grow and don’t last long, so scientists in Japan (where the berry is popular) are now trying to produce the all-important miraculin molecule by genetically engineering tomato plants. That is obviously some way off. For now the simplest and cheapest way to get a dose of miraculin is to buy tablets which contain the dehydrated pulp of the fresh berries.
So what are they like? Eagerly I put one on my tongue, waited about five minutes for it to dissolve and then I was good to go. I had read enthusiastic claims that it would make foods, such as oranges, taste as if they had been ‘freshly plucked from the Garden of Eden” and kill my sugar cravings stone dead.
That was not my experience. The tablet I tried certainly took the bitter edge off licking a lemon, but the aftertaste was flat and remarkably unpleasant. An expensive red wine was transformed by the tablet into a sweet, fizzy abomination. I tried eating a segment of orange. Far from making the orange irresistible, the tablet made it inedible. The only good thing, as far as I was concerned, is it put me off eating anything at all until the effects had worn off (about an hour).Share this:
Drinking three to five cups of coffee a day might help you live longer, according to new research.
Moderate coffee consumption reduces the risk of dying prematurely from heart disease, neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, and Type 2 diabetes, scientists found.
It also seems to lower the risk of suicide – but no association was seen with rates of cancer death.
“This study provides further evidence that moderate consumption of coffee may confer health benefits in terms of reducing premature death due to several diseases.” Professor Frank Hu, Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health
Whether or not the coffee drunk contained caffeine made no difference. The benefits are thought to be linked to other plant compounds in coffee besides the stimulant.
Lead scientist Ming Ding, from the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health in the US, said: “Bioactive compounds in coffee reduce insulin resistance and systematic inflammation. That could explain some of our findings. However, more studies are needed to investigate the biological mechanisms producing these effects.”
The results, published in the journal Circulation, are from a pooled analysis of three large on-going studies with a total of 208,501 male and female participants.
Coffee drinking was assessed using food questionnaires completed every four years for around 30 years.Compared with less or no coffee drinking, moderate coffee consumption was associated with a significant reduced risk of death across a range of causes.
The analysis took into account other factors that could have influenced the results including smoking, body mass index (BMI), levels of physical activity, alcohol consumption and diet.
Co-author Professor Frank Hu, also from the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, said: “This study provides further evidence that moderate consumption of coffee may confer health benefits in terms of reducing premature death due to several diseases.”
Emily Reeve, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “It is important to remember that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is what really matters if you want to keep your heart healthy, not how much coffee you drink.
“Previous research suggests that drinking up to five cups of coffee a day is not harmful to your cardiovascular health, and this study supports that. But more research is needed to fully understand how coffee affects our body and what it is in coffee that may affect a person’s risk of heart attack or stroke.”Share this:
A stir-fry diet, rich in soy, could protect women from bone weakening and osteoporosis in older women, a new study suggests.
Women become more susceptible to the brittle bone disease after going through the menopause as levels of protective oestrogen fall.
Since soybean foods contain plant chemicals called isoflavones that mimic the hormone, it has been suggested they might combat some effects of the menopause.
“Supplementing food with isoflavones could lead to a significant decrease in the number of women being diagnosed with osteoporosis” said Dr Thozhukat Sathyapalan, University of Hull
To test the theory, 200 women in early menopause were either given a daily supplement containing soy protein with 66 milligrams of isoflavones, or one only containing soy protein for six months.
Women on the soy-plus-isoflavones supplement had significantly lower levels of a blood protein marker of bone loss, suggesting a reduced risk of osteoporosis. They also had less risk of heart disease than those taking soy protein alone.
Lead researcher Dr Thozhukat Sathyapalan, from the University of Hull, said: “We found that soy protein and isoflavones are a safe and effective option for improving bone health in women during early menopause.”“The actions of soy appear to mimic that of conventional osteoporosis drugs.”
“The 66mg of isoflavone that we use in this study is equivalent to eating an oriental diet, which is rich in soy foods. In contrast, we only get around 2-16mg of isoflavone with the average Western diet. Supplementing our food with isoflavones could lead to a significant decrease in the number of women being diagnosed with osteoporosis.”
Bones grow and repair themselves rapidly during childhood and youth, but the process slows down with age and bone density begins to diminish from the age of 35. Women lose bone rapidly in the first few years after the menopause which can lead to osteoporosis and the risk of fractures.
Around three million people suffer from osteoporosis in the UK and more than 300,000 people receive hospital treatment for fractures every year because of the condition.Exercise and eating foods which are rich in calcium and vitamin D, and getting enough sunlight, are essential for healthy bones, but this is the first study to show that soy can also help prevent fracturing.
Next the scientists plan to investigate the long-term effects of taking soy protein and isoflavone supplements and whether they have benefits beyond bone health.
The findings were presented at the Society for Endocrinology’s annual meeting in Edinburgh.Share this:
“Humans come into the Western hemisphere about 20,000 years ago,” says Paul Bosland from New Mexico State University. “And they come into contact with a plant that gives them pain – it hurts them. Yet five separate times, chilli peppers were domesticated in the Western hemisphere because humans found some usefulness – and I think it was their medicinal use.”
The potential for both health and harm has always been a defining characteristic of chilli peppers, and among scientists, doctors and nutritionists it remains a matter of some dispute which prevails.A huge study, published this summer in the British Medical Journal, seemed to indicate that a diet filled with spices – including chillies – was beneficial for health.
A team at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences tracked the health of nearly half a million participants in China for several years. They found that participants who said they ate spicy food once or twice a week had a mortality rate 10% lower than those who ate spicy food less than once a week. Risk of death reduced still further for hot-heads who ate spicy food six or seven days a week.
Chilli peppers were the most commonly used spice among the sample, and those who ate fresh chilli had a lower risk of death from cancer, coronary heart disease and diabetes.
One of the authors of the study, Lu Qi – who confesses that he is very keen on spicy food – says there are likely to be many reasons for this effect.
“The data encourages people to eat more spicy food to improve health and reduce mortality risk at an early age,” says Qi, a nutritionist at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, though he adds that spicy food may not be beneficial for those with digestive problems or stomach ulcers.
While the health-promoting properties of chillies may not be fully understood, at least we have a good idea where to look to find the source of them. Cut a chilli open and you will see yellow placenta-like fronds that attach the seeds to the inside of the fruit. In most types of chilli, this is the location of the spice’s secret weapon – capsaicin.
It is capsaicin that makes chillies hot. The heat is measured in Scoville heat units, which is the number of times a sample of dissolved dried chilli must be diluted by its own weight in sugar water before it loses its heat. For a green bell pepper this is zero. But habanero peppers have a Scoville value of between 100,000 and 350,000. For pure capsaicin the figure is 16 million.
It is sometimes said that people in hot countries use more chilli because it makes them sweat, which cools them down. But in 1998, researchers at Cornell University pointed out that the greater use of spices in countries such as India, Thailand and China was likely to be linked to their anti-microbial function. By studying recipe books from all over the world, the researchers found that spices including chilli were more likely to be used close to the equator, and were also used more in humid valleys than on high plateaux.
This correlation with climate, and the attendant risk of infectious disease, was greater than the link with the right growing conditions for the spices. In other words, humans in dangerous climates developed a taste for chilli which, as Joshua Tewksbury puts it, “probably saved them a lot of death”.Share this:
Jamie Oliver has revealed how he shed almost two stone after learning about “simple foods that are nutritious and delicious”.
As well as switching to cutting out white, unprocessed foods and eating more vegetables, he has also added seaweed to his diet.
But can this coastal plant really help you shed those pesky post-summer holiday pounds?
Last year, research from Newcastle University suggested that seaweed could be a key ingredient to losing weight as a compound found in it stops the body from absorbing fat.
Research found that alginate, which is found in sea kelp, can help to suppress the digestion of fat in the gut. The researchers believe that if the alginates can block the fat digesting enzyme, the body will absorb less fat and stop people from becoming obese.
However, the NHS warned that the research did not “draw any definitive conclusions” and that it was “unclear whether any potential effect from from seaweed extract would lead to an improvement in weight-related health issues, such as a reduced risk of diabetes.”
They also say that blocking fat is not always beneficial for you: “Fat plays an important role in metabolism; it’s just the intake of excessive fat that is a health problem. This means that the potential for alginate to stop excess fat being absorbed by the body has its downsides, and the excess fat will have to come out in come capacity.”
It looks the jury is still out on seaweed’s weight-loss properties – but it’s so delicious, so we reckon it’s worth adding a little extra to your diet anyway.Share this: