Leading scientists have slammed claims by health groups that sugar should be treated as “the new tobacco ” - and warned against the “perils” of an increasingly single-minded focus on sugar, at the expense of satfats, in the battle against obesity .
Following last week’s launch of Action on Sugar calling for targets to reduce sugar in products by 20% to 30%, the professor in charge of a landmark review on the role of carbohydrates for the DH, due to be published this summer, led the backlash.
Ian Macdonald, who chairs the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition carbohydrate working group and is professor of metabolic physiology at the University of Nottingham, said the claims were a “complete distortion of the science”.
“I know of no evidence to show that sugar is addictive in, for example, the way in which tobacco or cocaine or heroin is,” he said.
“There have been some very silly things said about sugar”
“That is not to say that some people don’t have a strong craving for sweet foods, but it is in no way the same issue.”
“You have to look at the people who are the protagonists in the Action on Sugar campaign,” said Macdonald. “Some have done very good work on salt reduction but in that case there was a very strong link between reducing salt intake and tackling high blood pressure. They do not have the same quality of argument in the case of sugar and that is something we have be very careful about.”
“There have been some very silly things said about sugar. Certain people have said that people should no longer be concerned about their intake of satfats and that it is all about reducing sugar.
“That’s nonsense and utterly undermines the work that has been done to try to reduce satfat intake.
“The common sense approach, and I think the food industry is waking up to this, is to help the consumer lessen their calorie intake. It’s just that this will take a long time and not all companies have got behind it.
“But there appears to have been a change in the mood that it’s all down to sugar. I’m not sure what’s driven it but I would say ignore the evidence at your peril.”
The SACN, which has spent four and a half years gathering evidence for its “enormous” report on the impact of carbohydrate on the diet - the first of its kind for 22 years - is due to be completed in the spring, with publication earmarked for the summer.
Dr Victoria Burley, senior lecturer in nutritional epidemiology at Leeds University, who is also involved in the carbohydrate review, added: “I’m sure Action on Sugar must be patting themselves on the back at the amount of coverage they have received, but the actual evidence base is pretty weak.”
Dr Ian Campbell, founder of the NOF, and adviser to the DH and the BMA on obesity, also slammed the research: “The demonisiation of sugar is very dangerous and I would question at lies behind it.
”There is a very naive assumption that we should somehow rid ourselves of sugar form their diet and that somehow eating any amount of fat is now acceptable.”