Friday 18 April 2014
Joe Schwarcz: It looks like there is something to the Atkins diet after all
Who would have guessed that a song by the Guess Who would become a health anthem? “Silent footsteps crowding me, Sudden darkness but I can see, No sugar tonight in my coffee, No sugar tonight in my tea, No sugar to stand beside me, No sugar to run with me.” Not exactly the most brilliant lyrics, but not a bad message.
“No sugar” may be impossible to achieve, but what about just six teaspoons a day? That, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is what we should be striving for if we are to achieve the recommendation of just 5 per cent of calories in our diet being attributed to sugar. We have a way to go, given that Canadians now consume a whopping 26 teaspoons a day.
That of course is an average: teenage boys wolf down about 41 teaspoons, while senior women only about 20.
Where is all this sugar coming from?
A can of sugar-sweetened soft drink has about 10 teaspoons, the same as an equivalent amount of “no sugar added” fruit juice. A smoothie can harbour more than 20 teaspoons, a serving of Fruit Loops about 11 (that’s 100 times more than Shredded Wheat), a candy bar around seven and a doughnut four.
Then there is the hidden sugar, like four teaspoons in a serving of tomato soup, and half a teaspoon in a slice of bread.
It isn’t hard to see that the sugar adds up. But so what? What’s wrong with sugar? After all, it’s natural isn’t it? And natural substances are better for us than those chemically concocted sweeteners, aren’t they? Actually, no. Sugar is a problem.
Of course this has nothing to do with whether sugar is natural or not. It has to do with what it can do as it cruises through our body. Weight gain is an obvious possibility. Extra calories translate into extra weight, and sugar can deliver a lot of extra calories. There are 160 calories in a can of pop. You would have to run at eight kilometres per hour for fifteen minutes to burn that off.
In everyday language, the term “sugar” normally refers to sucrose, the white crystals isolated from sugar cane or sugar beets. But to a chemist, “sugar” can mean any of a number of simple carbohydrates that have a sweet taste. Sucrose is actually composed of two sugars, glucose and fructose joined together. Lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in milk, is made of glucose and galactose. Upon digestion these are broken down into their components, which then enter the bloodstream.
Starch, a carbohydrate composed of many glucose units linked together, is also a source of glucose upon digestion. When it comes to weight gain, the source of the sugars doesn’t much matter. Carbohydrates, be they starch or simple sugars, are a problem.
Now, for the first time, a national regulatory agency is poised to tackle the problem. An expert committee that advises the Swedish government has recommended that new guidelines focus on a low-carbohydrate diet as the most effective method for weight loss.
This is a huge turnaround, given that the scientific community has largely dismissed low-carbohydrate diets as fads. However, after taking two years to scrutinize about 16,000 published studies, the Swedish committee concluded that low-carbohydrate diets work, and that, surprisingly, in spite of being high in fat, such diets have no negative effects on blood cholesterol.
Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/