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Tax on sugary drinks backed by MPs

A tax on sugary drinks should be introduced as part of a “bold and urgent” set of measures to tackle child obesity in England, MPs say.

A tax on sugary drinks should be introduced as part of a "bold and urgent" set of measures to tackle child obesity in England, MPs say.

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.”

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Can we cut sugar levels in our food?

The amount of sugar in some packaged food must be reduced, the health authorities say.

The amount of sugar in some packaged food must be reduced, the health authorities say.

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.

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In search of the perfect sweetener

Too much refined sugar is blamed for a wave of obesity and ill-health, so the search is on for the perfect sweetener.

Too much refined sugar is blamed for a wave of obesity and ill-health, so the search is on for the perfect sweetener.

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).

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Health by stealth- how food manufacturers are disguising sugar

Food manufacturers are increasingly looking to make their products healthier, without consumers noticing a change in taste.

Food manufacturers are increasingly looking to make their products healthier, without consumers noticing a change in taste Under pressure to reduce levels of sugar, salt and saturated fat, manufacturers are increasingly turning to such people – selected for their heightened sense of taste – for help.

Government advisers recently suggested no more than 5% of daily calories should come from added sugar – half the level of the previous recommendation – while Tesco announced it would stop selling high-sugar drinks specifically aimed at children.

Reducing the cost of ingredients can also be a factor in companies choosing to use such laboratories.

Historically, if they wanted to take out sugar they had to use artificial sweeteners, now they have the option of using natural sweeteners too.

With something like salt, they may have reduced the levels of it a few years ago, but as our taste-buds acclimatise to less salt in our foods we can take it down a notch again.”

For Barbara Gallani, from the Food and Drink Federation, consumer demand is the greatest factor behind companies’ desire to make their products healthier.

But – perhaps surprisingly – companies are unwilling to inform the public of their products’ added nutritional benefit.

“Although ingredient changes will always be reflected in the ingredients list, it is not always desirable to actively promote them to consumers. This is because manufacturers don’t want to give the impression that they are compromising taste,” she explains.

“Maintaining consumer base and brand is very important.”

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Sugar worse than salt claim health experts

Health experts claim avoiding sugar could be more important than avoiding salt when it comes to your healthy heart.

Sugar worse than salt claim health expertsScientists have clashed over claims that sugar may be worse for blood pressure and heart health than salt.

US experts say people need to place a greater focus on cutting sugar intake and suggest the benefits of lowering salt levels are “debatable.” Their arguments are published in the journal Open Heart.

But other researchers have said the claims are “disingenuous” and “scientifically unnecessary”. They maintain both need to be reduced.

Researchers from St Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, and Montefiore Medical Centre in the USA reviewed a selection of evidence from basic science experiments, animal studies and human research.

They came to the conclusion that sugar – particularly fructose – may play a stronger role in high blood pressure and other cardiac conditions than salt.

And they say lowering salt consumption under certain levels may do more harm than good as the research team suggests attempts to reduce salt in processed food may drive people to eat more.

The US experts focus on a particular type of sugar – added fructose – often found in processed foods and sugary beverages.

But they say naturally occurring sugars in whole foods, for example those in fruit and vegetables, are not a cause for concern.

Data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey in England suggests most adults and children eat more sugar than recommended.

The World Health Organization recommends sugars should make up less than 10% of total energy intake per day – this works out at about a maximum of 50g (1.7oz) of sugar for the average adult.

But the global health body recently acknowledged that halving this, to 5% of total energy intake per day, would have additional benefits.

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Just one daily fizzy drink linked to higher prostate cancer risk

Drinking just one fizzy drink a day could increase a man’s chance of developing prostate cancer by around 40 per cent, research suggests.Just one daily fizzy drink linked to higher prostate cancer riskMen who consumed 300ml of a sugary soft drink a day appeared to raise their odds of succumbing to faster growing forms of the disease, according to a 15 year study.

The sugar in the drinks is believed to release insulin, which feeds tumours.

The study, carried out by Swedish scientists and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, tracked the health of more than 8,000 men aged 45 to 73 for an average of 15 years.

All were in good health when the study began, and were asked about what they liked to eat and drink.

Those who drank more sugary drinks were more likely to have been diagnosed with prostate cancer by the end of the study.

Isabel Drake, a researcher at Lund University, said: “Among the men who drank a lot of soft drinks, we saw an increased risk of prostate cancer of around 40 per cent.”

Large amounts of rice, pasta, cakes, biscuits and sugary breakfast cereals were also linked with a less serious form of the disease.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and about 36,000 are diagnosed with the disease in the UK each year. It accounts for a quarter of all newly diagnosed cases of cancer in men but most cases develop in those aged 70 or older.

The scientists who carried out the study said that while genetics were more important in determining the likelihood of developing prostate cancer than was the case with many other cancers, diet did seem to be important.

More research was needed to confirm the link with fizzy drinks but there were already “plenty of reasons” to cut back on them, they said.

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Eating chips in pregnancy can cause underweight babies

Eating chips during pregnancy can lead to significant health problems for new born babies new research suggests.Eating chips in pregnancy can cause underweight babiesConsuming a vast quantity of chips, crisps and biscuits during pregnancy can lead to babies having a lower than average birth weight, the study found.

Mothers-to-be who have a high intake of acrylamide – which is found in commonly consumed foods and coffee – are also more likely to have a baby which has a smaller head circumference.

The size of a child’s head has been associated with delayed neurodevelopment while lower birth weights have been associated with adverse health effects in early life and as children grow up.

Babies born to mothers with a high dietary intake of acrylamide were found to be up to 132 grams lighter than babies born to mothers who had a low intake, researchers said.

The mean birth weight among children who were exposed to the highest levels of acrylamide compared with children in the lowest was around 100 grams, the authors said.

The effect caused by acrylamide is comparable to lower birth weights caused by maternal smoking, they said.

The infant’s heads were also up to 0.33 centimetres smaller, they found.

Acrylamide is a chemical which is produced naturally in food as a result of cooking starch-rich food at high temperatures, such as when baking or frying. It has been found in a wide range of home-cooked and processed foods including crisps, chips, bread and coffee.

“The potential public-health implications of our findings are substantial,” the authors said.

“Reduced birth weight is a risk factor for numerous adverse health effects early in life, and has been associated with multiple adverse outcomes later in life such as reduced stature, increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and osteoporosis.”

They added: “These findings provide evidence supporting the need for changes in food production and for providing clear public health advice to pregnant women to reduce their dietary intake of foods that may contain high concentrations of acrylamide.”

Researchers examined the diets of 1,100 pregnant women between 2006 and 2010 in Denmark, England, Greece, Norway and Spain.

The study A comparative analysis of dietary intakes during pregnancy in Europe , led by the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL) in Barcelona, involved 20 research centres across Europe including the Born in Bradford research programme.

Dr Laura Hardie, reader in molecular epidemiology at the University of Leeds, said: “186 women from the Born in Bradford study took part in this major European research programme. We found that their babies had the highest levels of acrylamide out of all of the five centres, almost twice the level of the Danish babies.

“When we investigated their diet it was clear that the largest source of dietary acrylamide is from chips.”

CREAL researcher and lead author Dr Marie Pedersen, added: “The public-health implications of the findings in this study are substantial.

“Reduced birth weight, in particular low birth weight, has been shown to be related to numerous adverse health effects early or later in life such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Furthermore, reduced birth head circumference has been associated with delayed neurodevelopment.”

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Does a high fat diet damage your brain?

Eating a high fat diet can impair the function of the part of the brain that controls appetite and energy expenditure which in turn dictates our weight.Does a high fat diet damage your brain?That is the finding presented at the British Science Festival by scientists at the University of Aberdeen Rowett Institute for Nutrition and Health.

This may help explain why overweight people struggle to lose weight and then struggle to maintain their weight loss.

Researchers fed mice a diet high in saturated fat and sugar over 16 weeks – where 60% of their energy came from saturated fat – and compared them with mice fed a normal diet over the same period.

Using techniques such as transcriptomics and proteomics, scientists then studied genes and proteins in the hypothalamus of their brain – the part that regulates eating and energy expenditure.

They found that mice fed a high fat diet had changes to genes and proteins indicative of damage in the hypothalamus and that these changes occurred very rapidly – within weeks.

Dr Lynda Williams, Obesity and Metabolic Health Group Leader, at the Rowett, said: “The hypothalamus is a small area at the base of the brain containing neurones that control the amount of food we eat and the energy we expend.

“However this control breaks down in obesity – the system appears not to work – and we don’t really know why this happens. In our study we found that genes and proteins changed in response to a high fat diet and that these changes are normally associated with damage in the brain, indicating that damage had occurred in the hypothalamus in mice that ate a diet high in saturated fat.

“We instinctively know that eating a diet high in saturated fat and sugar will lead to overweight and obesity. Our results indicate that a high fat diet can damage the areas of the brain that control energy balance and perpetuate the development of obesity. High fat and high sugar foods are energy dense foods which are highly palatable and they are very easy to overeat.”

“Our findings may also explain why some overweight people find it difficult to diet and why weight loss after dieting is so difficult to maintain. We now plan to carry out further studies that will look at whether these effects are reversible.”

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Red wine could help you lose weight

Drinking red wine could help you lose weight by suppressing your appetite and preventing you from overeating according to new research.Red wine could help you lose weightResearchers found that when bees were fed resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, they ate less food afterwards.

While bees normally gorge themselves on sugary foods when they are freely available, those which had been fed resveratrol chose to stop eating once they had taken on enough to meet their energy needs.

They also became uninterested in diluted sugar solutions, suggesting they had become less sensitive to it, the scientists reported in the Aging journal.

Previous studies have indicated that resveratrol could also combat obesity by mimicing the effects of a low fat diet, and help prevent the onset of age-related disease.

Gro Amdam, one of the study’s authors from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, said: “Because what we eat is such an important contributor to our physical health, we looked at the bees’ sensitivity to sugar and their willingness to consume it.

“Bees typically gorge on sugar and while it’s the best thing for them, we know that eating too much is not necessarily a good thing.”

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Dieting- it’s all in the timing

Sticking to strict meal times every day is good for the metabolism and helps the body burn off fat according to new research.Dieting- it's all in the timingPeople who snack on healthy food may consume only a small amount of fat- however their haphazard eating patterns mean they can put on weight, a new reserach study suggests.

In contrast, sticking to strict meal times is good for the metabolism and helps the body burn off fat- allowing a more liberal choice of food.

The findings indicate that adopting a fixed timetable for meals could be a more effective method of dieting than trying to cut out fatty foods and might help prevent obesity, researchers said.

Previous studies have shown that both a high fat diet and eating patterns that disrupt the natural body clock can interfere with our metabolism and raise the risk of obesity.

Scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem tested the effects of timing and fat intake on four groups of mice over an 18-week period to determine whether careful scheduling of meals could lower the effects of a high-fat diet.

Half were given a high-fat diet that would normally be expected to make them obese. Of these, a quarter were fed at the same time each day and another quarter could eat as much as they liked, whenever they liked.

The other half were fed a diet that was lower in fat. Again, one quarter had a fixed feeding time, the other had not.

All four of the groups gained weight over the course of the trial, with the group that ate a high-fat diet at irregular intervals unsurprisingly gaining the most weight, while those on a low-fat, scheduled diet gained the least.

But more surprisingly, the mice that had been fed a high-fat diet at regular intervals finished the trial in a better condition than those that ate low fat foods whenever they wanted, despite both groups consuming the same number of calories overall.

The mice in the scheduled, high fat group had 12 per cent lower body weight, 21 per cent lower cholesterol and 1.4 times higher sensitivity to insulin than the unscheduled, low-fat group.

The diet also changed their metabolism so that they burnt off the fats they ingested to produce energy in between meal times, rather than storing the fat in their bodies.

The study was published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

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