Article - Lee-Anne Wann on why sugar might not be so sweet

Lee-Anne Wann on why sugar might not be so sweet

Fitness and nutrition specialist Lee-Anne Wann doesn’t mind being labelled controversial or extreme for her view that sugar is something no one should be consuming. She says the question isn’t whether sugar is bad for you, it’s ‘how bad is it?’

And she says even if you disagree about cutting out sugar, you should do your research to make sure the dietary choices you’re making are informed, and make small changes that could give your health a big boost.

In a recent talk at our Auckland shop, Leanne outlined several potential health issues associated with excess refined table sugar intake. Those included immune system suppression, mineral deficiency, impaired DNA structure, hormonal imbalance, asthma, tooth decay and high blood sugar, adding it’s also been linked with obesity, type two diabetes, cancer, ADHD and hyperactivity.

She also said studies have linked excess fructose (fruit sugar) consumption with fatty liver disease, where triglycerides build up in the liver, a condition associated with obesity.

Lee-Anne, in her third season as nutritionist for the Vodafone Warriors, says reducing sugar intake is the single most effective thing she does to benefit players’ health. The NRL league has set a body fat benchmark of 15 percent for its players, she says, and the players she’s working with at the Warriors have reduced theirs to 12.5 percent.

“They eat natural foods from a source they’re meant to be consumed from. They’re up against sugary sports drinks and energy bars that they’ve been given all the time. They think it’s normal. But when you ask them to make a slight change or to eat something not so processed, they feel better.”

Lee-Anne says she’s also had success in reducing hypertension in clients who reduce their sugar intake.

She points to recent studies that have examined the impact of sugar in the diet, including USCF’s Sugar Science initiative, which found strong links between sugar and chronic disease. The project reviewed more than 8000 scientific papers on the health effects of added sugar and found links between eating added sugar and diseases like type two diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, but recommended more research to make the links conclusive.

Another study, ‘Impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on blood pressure’, reported 12 studies on sugar-sweetened beverages, with a total of 409,707 participants, all of which showed a positive relation between increased intake and hypertension.

Research last year by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that those who consumed between 17 percent and 21 percent of their daily calories from added sugar increased their risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 38 percent, compared with those who consumed around 8 percent of daily calories from added sugar. Those who consumed more than 21% of daily calories from added sugar had double the mortality risk, compared with the 8 percent consumption group.

“If I look at the evidence, it’s not something I want to consume or I want my clients or any person to consume,” Leanne says. “This is easily accessible information, but if you asked the mainstream public, ‘did they know about this?’, probably not. But that’s the job of professionals and people in [the media] industry to let people know, even if you disagree.”

The World Health Organisation recommends sugars should make up less than 10 percent of total energy intake per day, with a new draft guideline proposing reduction to below five percent of total energy intake per day would have additional benefits. Five per cent of total energy intake is equivalent to around 25 grams or six teaspoons of sugar per day for an adult of normal body mass index.

The New Zealand Nutritional Taskforce recommends New Zealand adults should restrict sucrose and other free sugars to no more than 15 percent of total energy, which it says is “because of the potential problems associated with excess energy and dental caries”.

Lee-Anne says with some high sugar products promoted as healthy options, and with reliable information not always available, people should take responsibility for their own purchasing decisions. Part of that is knowing what’s in what we eat and drink, she says.

“We’re aware sugar is not beneficial for us to varying degrees. I’m not as concerned about the candy bar or the chocolate cake you eat. I care about all the foods we eat on a consistent basis that contribute immensely to excess sugar consumption but we’re told are healthy.

“Sweet treats aren’t the problem. Life is for living and enjoying. We enjoy sugar and sweetened things but it’s understanding the hidden sugars.”

She researched supermarket products and selected some that might be consumed in “an average day”, including yoghurt, a hazelnut latte, Thai chilli sauce, a health drink, a breakfast drink and salad with dressing. Perhaps surprisingly, measured by grams per serve, the pumpkin soup had 1.6 teaspoons of added sugar, the chilli sauce 9.9 per serve, the yoghurt 3.2 and the latte 1.8. The full list totalled more than 20 teaspoons of sugar, which exceeded recommended intake guidelines.

Here are Lee-Anne’s top five tips for getting wise about sugar:


1. Read the top three ingredients on food labels

The top three ingredients are the primary constituents, which have to be in order of quantity. Lee-Anne says marketers and manufacturers break ingredients down into different types of sugar so they don’t necessarily feature near the top of the list. Examples of the types of sugars listed include barley malt extract, sugar, glucose, sucrose, invert sugar, dextrose and glucose solids.

2. Do the maths

Look at the total sugars listed on the label and divide the number of grams by 4.2. That’s the number of teaspoons of sugar you are ingesting.

3. Don’t be fooled by healthy sugar disguises 

There are over 61 names for sugar, including brown sugar, invert sugar, barley malt, raw sugar and agave nectar. It’s all pretty much the same as far as your body is concerned.

4. Minimise easy, acceptable access

Try to avoid giving sugary food as rewards for children and instead use other non sugar items. Give people gifts of health such as massage or flowers.

5. Watch out for fat free foods

One of the biggest myths is that if a food is fat free it doesn’t make you fat. Fat free doesn’t mean sugar free and most fast free snacks are loaded with sugar.

ecostore has recently come up with a healthier new fundraising option that takes out sugar. It’s Good Soap , plant-based soaps your kids can sell to support a good cause. The cute little soaps, Lemongrass or Grapefruit and Mint, come in stylish packaging and one can even be personalised with your own message.

The Good Soap fundraising page online also has heaps of resources to make it easy to fundraise. Check it out here.

There’s a lot online about the issue of sugar in our diet - as Lee-Anne says, it’s important to research the topic so you’re making informed choices.

Here are just a few links that we thought may be useful:

New Zealand psychologist Nigel Latta’s documentary ‘Is Sugar The New Fat?’

A Stanford University study on sugar, obesity and diabetes

Scientific American’s blog ‘Is Sugar Really Toxic? Sifting through the Evidence’

World Sugar Research Organisation’s comments on the WHO’s guideline

Consumer NZ article on sugar

NZ Ministry of Health Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Adults

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    By Melanie Rands on Wed February 03, 2016
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