Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Australian Sugar Paradox: Aussies Get Fatter and Fatter Despite Decreasing Sugar Consumption

Those of you who follow the publications in the field of nutrition in general and the issue of carbohydrate (over-)feeding, in particular, will be familiar with the fact that sucrose consumption in the US, Europe and Australia has been decreasing over the last 30 years (US: -23%; UK: -19%; AUS: -23%). At the same time, however, the amount of fructose US citizens consume in the form of syrups and high fructose corn syrup, in particular, increased by +23%. And people are becoming more and more aware that this very shift from a readily oxidized form of sugar to a sugar (fructose) that must be processed into triglycerides by the liver, before eventually being available as a substrate, could well be at the heart of the exponential increase in the number of overweight and severely overweight individuals in the US.
The "Australian Paradox": Despite decreasing sugar consumption these two may soon be the only normal weight inhabitants of the Australian Continent.

The "Australian Paradox" (Barclay. 2011), as Barclay and Brand-Miller labeled it, does yet raise the question in how far this hypothesis is accurate and whether or not fructose really is the main culprit, here. Other than in the US in Australia (as well as in the UK), the amount of fructose citizens consume from beverages and other sweetened prepared foodstuff declined over the years 1980-2003 by -16% (-5% in the UK). Nevertheless, Australia suffered from a similarly pronounced increase (~300%) in obesity rates as the US. Barclay and Brand-Miller summarize their results as follows:
Our findings do not support the widely held belief that reducing the consumption of refined sugars, and  increasing  the  availability  and  preference  for  low-joule  beverages, will  help  to  reverse  societal trends  in  obesity. Most  recently,  the American  Heart Association  stated  that  ― added  sugars  are  an important factor in the obesity crisis and set strict guidelines for added sugar intake. Specifically the  guidelines  recommend  that Americans  should  eat  or  drink  no more  than  5  teaspoons  (25  g)  of added sugar per day for most women and 9 teaspoons (45 g) per day for the majority of men.  
Warning against an overestimation of the contribution of fructose and/or simple sugars to an obesity crisis that costs US citizens roughly $147 billion a year, the authors state:
Clearly,  overconsumption  of  energy  relative  to  needs  must  be  addressed  to  halt  the  obesity epidemic.  However,  a  recent  analysis  of  Australian  children’s  dietary  intakes  from  1995  to  2007 revealed  a  substantial  decrease  in  sugar-sweetened  beverage  (halved  as  a  percentage  of  energy) consumption  over  the  past  decade,  but  increased  consumption  in  the  proportion  of  energy  from chocolate, cakes and cookies, pizza and packet chips. Furthermore, the 2007 National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey showed that sugar and sugary beverages were not predominant ―extra foods in the diets of Australian children. Therefore, the question of whether there is much to be gained  by  focusing  public  health  policy  on  the  removal  of  sugar  and  sugar-sweetened  beverages remains. The concern is that potentially more important determinants of obesity are being overlooked by the current emphasis on sugars and soft drinks.
As a faithful visitor of the SuppVersity you will recognize major motif of all my blogposts in the "overconsumption of energy relative to needs" or as Vince Andrich phrased it, lately - it's all about "working your sugar-bags (muscles) hard enough to earn your fair share of carb intake".

Other than fats and proteins, carbohydrates are at best "conditionally essential", meaning that as an elite athlete you may need them to maintain top performance. Yet, even then, they are nothing but FUEL and I guess you can imagine what happens if you tried to keep refueling a car that is parked on the sofa ... ahm... I meant in the garage 24 hours a day, 365 days a year... it won't take long for the tank to overflow (and this will happen no matter what kind of fuel you use). Remember that, when you down your next can of soda or annihilate a bag of "low fat" potato chips while watching TV.

A last world to all skinny fat, pasta-loving girls and oat-meal scuffing wanna be beef-cakes out there: Yes, the "good" starchy carbs are sugars, too. No, they are not essential and yes, they will make your gas tank overflow and your love handles grow, as well, if you did not earn your fair share of carb intake by "working your sugar-bags" ;-)