Wednesday, May 12, 2010


In the last 10 years sugar and other caloric sweeteners are at the receiving end, attracting attention from consumers, nutritionists, health professionals and governments world over, for all wrong reasons. There is no doubt that sugar based foods are liked by most consumers, especially children and young age population and this practice has been sited as the major reason for increased body weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) noticed lately amongst populations in some affluent countries. An average adult needs about 2000 kC of energy through the diet contributed by carbohydrates, proteins and fats present in the food. While fat calories are restricted by guidelines to provide no more than 30% of calories, there is no upper limits suggested for sugar.

Since protein requirement is about 50-60 gm for an average adult, the calorie contribution from this source does not exceed 11-13% of total calories and balance has to come mostly from carbohydrates which works out to less than 60%, equivalent to 250 to 300 gm of carbohydrates a day. Sugar and starch are the major carbohydrates present in foods and there is no accepted guidelines regarding the ideal proportion of sugar to total carbohydrates considered safe for regular consumption. While a daily consumption of 44 gm of sugar is suggested by some as ideal to keep away some of the life style disorders that afflict the humans, there is no scientific study reported any where to substantiate this contention. Food industry manufactures thousands of products containing sugars as high as 70-80% and focus has been on these products which are considered unhealthy and dangerous. To prevent people from consuming such sweetened products, radical policies like high taxation and state regulations to control their manufacture are being advocated.

During the last decade High Fructose Corn Syrup ( HFCS), made from corn starch through hydrolysis and isomerization was castigated as villain sparing white sugar from too aggressive adverse campaign. That HFCS contains same mono saccharides glucose and fructose present in white sugar, does not spare it from criticism by its antagonists and fact still remains that no shred of supporting scientific evidence has been forthcoming to support such a stand. Probably the observation that increasing incidence of obesity is almost parallel to the growth of HFCS industry, which may be coincidental, could have provided the temptation to critics to put it on the dock.

It is unfortunate that more than a century of research in nutrition has not been able to bring out the role of sugar clearly in human body leaving the mankind to second guess the probable role sugar plays in weight gain. It is only recently that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) came out categorically against blaming sugar for obesity, a stand opposite to the views of its counter part agency FDA of USA. According to EFSA not sufficient scientific evidence exists to fix any upper limit for daily sugar consumption. Further the data on obesity amongst the population in the US clearly shows that the epidemic is on the increase during the last decade while average sugar consumption in that country declined by more than 10%, clearly showing that the cause lies some where else.

Of course the above news could be sweet music to the ears of food industry, especially the caloric sweetener manufacturers but the views expressed by the EFSA should not be a blanket green signal for the industry to hook its consumers on nutritionally unbalanced products with high sensory pleasure. The key to over weight is often the excess calories consumed, be it from sugar or fat and psychologists have warned that high calorie foods are addictive in nature which should not be exploited by food manufacturers to inflict uncontrolled damage on the society. There must be synergy between consumer need and industry action.


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