Weighing in on the sugar debate

The Heart Foundation talks sugar following Nigel Latta’s TV show on the sweet stuff (2014)

Nigel Latta’s show on sugar in 2012 made people sit up and pay attention.  Hopefully it’s also helped people see why we have to do something about reducing intakes of added sugar and sugary drinks.

There’s just nothing good in sugary drinks other than water, and we can get that free from the tap.   Sugary drinks make companies rich, but cost the health system (that taxpayers obviously fund) a lot.  In effect, we’re all paying for sugary drink companies profits.

There are very few ways as a society that we can influence consumption of sugary drinks.  Cutting back on sugary drinks and foods has been part of healthy eating recommendations as long as I can remember, but to little effect.  Where giving people “information” fails, price works.   

No one likes the idea of more tax, but putting some sort of tax or regulatory measure on the cost of sugary drinks is one of the few tools we have to nudge down consumption.  It also means people aren’t deprived of the choice to have a sugary drink if they want to every so often. What it does do is start to level the playing field so that ‘unhealthy’ and ‘cheap’ don’t go together. 

The take home message from the show was Robert Lustig’s comment about added sugar – a little is okay, a lot is not.  This statement can also be applied more widely to other foods we eat.   It is important to remember that even though the focus was on sugar, it doesn’t give us a free-for-all with the rest of our diet.  

Cutting sugar is important, but it’s not the magic fix that on its own will keep us healthy - in reality that’s our whole eating pattern.  So while you’re looking at how much added sugar you’re actually having, remember that you still need to eat plenty of vegetables and fruit (yes, fruit contains sugar, but packaged up with fibre and other nutrients – what we want to cut down on is added sugar); replace refined grain products (eg. white flour) with whole grains; choose healthy sources of fats like nuts, seeds, avocado, oils and oily fish; and choose lean varieties of meat and reduced fat dairy.   

While healthy eating is important, you can also have too much of a good thing. Portion sizes are also important. 

Learn more about portion sizes