‘Sugar in the Dock’ – write up from Edinburgh Science Festival event

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#EdSciFest – Sugar in the Dock – event details

Like it or lump it, sugar plays a large part in our modern diets and, with our consumption at an all-time high, what can we do to fight our addiction? BBC Scotland Heath Correspondent Eleanor Bradford will lead a discussion featuring nutrition expert Prof Geraldine McNeill of the University of Aberdeen, Pete Ritchie of sustainable food group Nourish Scotland and Naveed Sattar, Professor of Metabolic Medicine at the University of Glasgow examining the role of sugar in our lives. Delve into its past, present and future, investigate how much we are consuming and consider alternatives.

I attended the above discussion event last week and found it extremely interesting, especially in light of my recent ‘Lent’ challenge to stop eating processed sugar (6 days out of 7).

A collection of my (fairly jumbled up) notes from the speakers’ presentations below:

  • Book to look up -‘Pure, White & Deadly’ by John Yudkin (published 1972 – still relevant today!!)
  • Sugar companies are playing the same game as tobacco companies…
  • Sugar (sucrose) is cheap – kilo for 59p – corresponds with disparity in obesity levels between children from less deprived areas and those from more deprived areas.
  • A lot of processing involved in extracting sugar from sugar cane…
  • WHO are promoting ‘free sugars‘ but advocating that these only make up less than 10% of calorie intake (5% even better = 6 tbsps sugar per day..). UK govt. target is 11% but even this is difficult to achieve – we’d need to halve national UK sugar consumption.
  • Resource – BBC programme – The Truth About Sugar also article here.
  • Sugar and disease – complex relationship – proven to cause dental diseases, saturated fat is proven to link to heart disease but sugar not as clear cut, also contributes to obesity but this is more driven by fat and total calorie intake.
  • Dental care costs the NHS as much as reproductive health and maternity care!!
  • Sugar is potentially guilty by association – marketing and increasing calorie intakes are the real villains (?) – sugar is needed for life – energy! Treating fat as evil has led to increase in sugar rich projects and now sugar is the new bad guy.
  • Sattar Naveed – ” a calorie is a calorie” however it comes and that’s what (generally speaking) causes obesity. If you eat 12 bags of grapes – you will gain weight.
  • Idea that what is provided is eaten – need to change the availability/prevalence of sugary products.
  • Concept of re-training peoples’ taste buds – try something 15 times…
  • We wouldn’t give sugar to our animals – why are we systematically feeding ourselves something we wouldn’t give to our pets?
  • The current food system makes humans more like farm animals than wild animals – by not allowing ourselves choice.
  • A sugar tax would work (proven in other countries) but need to make access to fruit and veg easier if this was to be enforced.
  • People talk about addiction to sugar but perhaps we are accustomed rather than addicted – therefore can change.
  • 5% sugar target would, interestingly, take us back to around 1820 – which is a big statement and probably unattainable in this generation – but perhaps it is a good, stark message to the food industry that this is the direction to head in.
  • People with low self esteem vulnerable to ‘bad’ diets…
  • Cultural/social pressures influence sugar consumption – we’re capable of ‘being two different people’ in different settings, where there are different expectations.
  • Public services see vending machines as a source of revenue (even water provision) – need a big change here – money is a huge factor. Need leadership, public support and political will to change. Perhaps an element of personal responsibility too?
  • Fruit and veg is not ubiquitous – whereas sugar is!
  • Fact to finish on –> a latte has approx. 250 calories, whereas a cuppa has approx. 10!!
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