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In this paper we provide science-based information on the role of sugar in New Zealand diet. In addition the paper outlines key messages and practical ideas to assist New Zealanders in making healthy food choices.
In the debate on the role of sugar in diet of New Zealanders, sugar should be discussed in terms of the whole foods which make up what New Zealanders are eating. Sugar is classified as a carbohydrate and along with fat and protein these three macronutrients in varying proportions make up the foods eaten each day. However if any of these three nutrients – carbohydrate, fat or protein – are consumed in excess of what is required by the body then this will cause the excess to be stored by the body as fat.
With the increasing levels of obesity seen within New Zealand and internationally society is looking for answers and for something to blame. However the cause of obesity cannot be blamed on a single nutrient, such as sugar, as other issues such as portion sizes, lack of physical inactivity and life style choices are all part of the confusing mix of increasing obesity rates.
Sugars defined as ‘Intrinsic sugars’ are found naturally in the cell structure of foods such as fruit, vegetables and milk. ‘Free sugars’ are added to foods by food manufacturers, chefs or consumers but also include sugars naturally found in honey, syrups and fruit juices. It is the free sugars that organisations including, WHO, are offering recommendations for to decrease intake levels and improve awareness. The most common food sources of free sugars in New Zealand diet are non-alcoholic beverages and sweets or lollies. These foods contain no nutritional value but plenty of energy and are regularly over consumed as they do not offer the feeling of satiety or fullness.
Research is now showing that excess consumption of free sugars has a negative impact on current health issues in New Zealand, such as dental decay, obesity and heart disease. The strongest evidence is with oral health where it has been proven that dental decay increases with free sugar consumption. Also Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSB) have been linked as a determinant of weight with increased consumption of these types of beverages causing an increase in body weight. A recent study has also identified the negative effect that sugar has on risk factors for blood pressure and heart disease, however in this case there seems to be a link with sugars even when there is no change in body weight.