By Paul McArdle, British Dietetic Association dietitian and diabetes specialist
The newly launched Action on Sugar Campaign is pushing for a reduction of 20-30% in the amount of sugars in our diet – sugar hidden in products we buy and the sugar we add to our food and drink. Can our sweet addiction really put us at risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes?
It's true most of us are consuming too much sugar, and much of the sugar we consume is already in pre-packaged or convenience foods.
Although sugar has fewer than half the calories of fat, it's very easy to consume large quantities of it, especially in the form of drinks, which doesn't leave you feeling very full or satisfied. Often foods with added sugar provide very few nutritional benefits and, therefore, 'empty calories'.
The British Dietetic Association (BDA) supports the call by the campaign group Action on Sugar for the food industry to reduce the sugar added to foods. If successful, the reduction in sugar may contribute to cutting the number of calories people are eating.
This is the main problem: the sugar we eat is part of a diet which is already too high in calories – indeed it may be contributing to this, and therefore to the increasing numbers of people who are overweight and obese. Small amounts of sugar, as part of a balanced diet and in people who are successfully managing their weight, is not necessarily a problem. Moreover, there are no research studies that have proved eating sugar causes type 2 diabetes. However, there are studies that look at links between dietary patterns and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
One such link is sugar-sweetened beverages. A very large study of men found an association between drinking sugar-sweetened beverages and developing type 2 diabetes. Over a 20-year period, it showed a 24% increased risk for those with the highest intakes of these drinks. This doesn't demonstrate they are the cause of the diabetes in the study population, as different types of research studies would be needed to determine that. Watch this space.