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Too much sugar can make you ill

February 4th 2014 / Anna Hunter

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The war on sugar has officially begun as new research reveals it can affect your heart, writes Anna Hunter

Today’s headlines do not make for sweet reading if you hail from the Mary Poppins school of healthcare. It turns out that a spoonful of sugar most definitely won’t help the medicine go down; in fact the findings of a recent large US study imply that overconsumption of the white stuff leaves you more prone to illness in the first place.

Dr Quanhe Yang and his team at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta have reported that people who sourced a quarter of their daily calories from added sugar had over three times more risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases than people who consumed far less sugar. While most people are aware of the damage caused to our hearts by consuming too much saturated fat, few of us associate sugar with cardiovascular problems. Yet as sugar triggers weight gain, and with most adults and children in the developed world devouring far too much of the stuff, there’s no doubt that it’s taking a toll on our tickers, not to mention our health as a whole.

World Health Organisation scientists have also expressed concern in relation to sugar consumption and its contribution to the “tidal wave” of cancer that the modern world now faces. The WHO recommends that added sugar should make up less than 10% of total calorie intake (roughly 70g for men and 50g for women), however with many of us exceeding this limit the organisation proposes that restrictions on the sweet stuff might be the only way to reduce our over reliance on fizzy drinks, sweet cereals and their sickly partners in crime.

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The WHO predicts that cancer cases will reach 24 million a year by 2035, but half of these cases could be prevented if we adopted healthier habits and behaviour. According to the WHO, there is an “alarming” level of naivety about diet’s role in cancer, and while we are all aware of the perils associated with sunbeds, smoking and binge drinking, it’s high time we raised public consciousness about the dangers linked to obesity, lack of physical activity and an unhealthy diet. We know that being overweight and desk-bound is bad for us, but it seems that many of us don’t realise that improving our lifestyles could help us to dodge cancer for good. As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure, and the WHO’s alarming forecast suggests that we all need to be taking as many preventative measures as possible.

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Personal responsibility is paramount, but many are of the opinion that it’s imperative that the government, food companies and regulatory bodies engage in bringing about change. From clearer food labelling and health warnings to taxes on processed foods, scientists, academics and health professionals are beginning to put pressures on politicians and food manufacturers to step up to the plate, so to speak.

The same experts that campaigned to lower the amount of salt in our diets (with great success - our general intake has fallen by 15%) have joined forces to form Action on Sugar, with the aim of slashing our sugar consumption by up to 40% over the next four years. They face quite a struggle - not only against our tastebuds but also health ministers and the food industry; however, their intentions are noble given the growing rates of both child and adult obesity in the Western world (not to mention cancer). Whether or not they triumph against the powers that be remains to be seen, but if they could retrain our palates and improve our collective health that could only be a good thing. Put the sugar lumps back into your carpetbag Mary, we’re sweet enough already.

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