Thursday, January 9, 2014


Sugar is a natural food component present in almost all fruits but man learned to manufacture it from sugarcane and sugar beets in the last century and then started a big transformation in the health status of people in successive generations. At least this is the contention of a number of pundits knowledgeable about human nutrition and health. If obesity epidemic, diabetes, CVD and  hypertension are threatening to annihilate mankind, the first accused is sugar and its allies (other carbohydrates). Next comes fat (saturated and trans types) which get into the human system in a variety of ways complicating the case of over weight and other diseases. 

Recent reports trying to applaud the processed food industry for moderating their products vis-a-vis calorie content do not tell much though figures have been quoted regarding how many trillions of calories the industry was able to reduce in its total portfolio. Whether this was accomplished through fat reduction or sugar reduction is also not known. Credit to some extent must go to some of the leading players in food industry in recognizing the urgent need for reducing calorie content and increasing the nutrient density which can only bring about any perceptible positive changes in human health. The tragedy is that this world is inexorably rushing to a catastrophe through reckless eating aided and abetted by the processing industry which feeds them with mouth watering food products mostly with "empty" calories! It is time this trend is halted and eventually reversed.

Small policy changes such as ban on large serving sizes tried out in New York in case of beverages, can trigger a shift in population behavior to consume less but the over riding concern for personal liberty in choosing what one wants to consume is coming in the way of enforcing such enlightened and well meaning efforts. It may be true to say that wealth of a nation influences the eating behavior of its population. Look at a country like India where majority of its people live in poverty, the pack sizes of processed foods are progressively declining and consequently the unit price also are less as the industry wanted to bring more and more people with lesser income to its buying ambit. On the contrary in a rich country like the US, jumbo sizes of food packs and servings are order of the day! This raises the inevitable question whether the health policy administrators should start thinking in terms of restricting the pack and serving sizes through mandatory means. Possibly large sized portions or packs of foods can be taxed high while their smaller counterparts are spared. 

There is a class of pundits  who think that the current trend of uncontrolled development of obesity in many countries across the world is definitely due to high sugar content in foods manufactured by the industry and probably there is some truth in this stand. Their assertion that . the obesity epidemic can be arrested and even reversed within a span of five years if the food industry makes cuts the amount of "hidden sugar" in their products, must be viewed seriously in this context. According to many doctors, sugar is a major cause of obesity and it is also known to contribute to development of type 2 diabetes. A new campaign has been recently kick started under the banner of "Action Sugar" that aims to increase the awareness about the dangers of sugar and exert pressure on the industry and the policy makers to take effective measures to bring down the sugar content in processed foods.

" Action Sugar" seems to have taken courage by the success of similar efforts during the last one decade to cut down on salt intake by the population which is considered responsible for hypertension and stroke in millions of people across the world. This campaign is considered a success measured by the 15% reduction in salt intake among the population achieved between 2001 and 2011 and  reducing incidences of myocardial infarction and cerebral strokes significantly between 2001 and 2011, .

The current thinking that if major manufacturers reduced the amount of sugar in their products, (about 20 to 30 per cent decrease in sugar content) in three to five years, the obesity epidemic could be stopped or even reversed. How this can be achieved is the crucial question. The voluntary approach is an ideal way of solving this problem but whether this will really work out on a collective level is doubtful. The 6.4 trillion calorie cut down claim by the industry and a consequent reduction of 74 calories per capita per day does not seem to have made any impact and hence mandatory restrictive policies will have to be thought of to force the manufacturers to reduce use of sugar drastically in most processed products.  


1 comment:

Suresh Chander said...

Dear Sir,

I have been following you articles since 2011. You contributions are great. I am masters food science student from University of Helsinki. You blogs throws the light on current trends of food status in India. You also drag out new informations which is motivates to be as regular visitor you words. I wish you a very happy new year and successful year ahead

My question:
Food regulations generally asks to mention the total amount of sugars present in the food (Mono and di-saccharides). The term "Hidden sugar" makes me curious and raises lots of questions with in me.

So it means that International food giants, use the loop holes of the food policies. How this could be possible? can you brief me a bit more on this aspect.

Best regards,
Suresh Chander