Sugar Bowl and Lemons

Too Much Sugar and Too Few Nuts?

Too much sugar and too few nuts are killing us, apparently. That’s how press reports distilled a recent paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). On the other side of the globe, the messaging is similar.

“Obesity has got us by our flabby throats,” says Peter FitzSimons in the Sydney Morning Herald. He goes on to say Australia needs a sugar tax because “the prime culprit behind this crisis is that we take in way too much sugar.”

All this messaging is simplistic, misleading, and harmful.

Unsettling Facts of Australia’s Sugar Consumption

The facts simply don’t support such a simple story. A new study today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) finds:

In Australia, 4 independent data sets confirmed shorter- and longer-term declines in the availability and intake of added sugars, including those contributed by SSBs. The findings challenge the widespread belief that energy from added sugars or sugars in solution are uniquely linked to the prevalence of obesity.

Co-author Alan Barclay says that people have been listening to guidelines in Australia. Those guidelines have, since 1980, been telling people to avoid sugar. These data suggest they’ve been doing just that. But the population has been increasing its intake of confections and alcohol.

So, simply demonizing or taxing sugar-sweetened beverages might not solve the problem of obesity.

In Praise of Nuts

On the other side of the equation, exalting the life-saving virtues of eating more nuts might help the nut growers ring up more sales. But it probably won’t extend our lives. And that headline about “too few nuts” is grossly misleading.

Emphasizing a single food or nutrient in isolation seldom leads to better health. What does work is to pay attention to overall dietary patterns. In the context of a healthy dietary pattern, like a Mediterranean diet, nuts contribute to good health. By themselves, not so much.

If you have real concerns about your health and nutrition, the best help comes from working with a smart dietitian. Hype and fear about good and bad foods probably does more harm than good.

For the paper in AJCN, click here. The JAMA study of dietary patterns is here, along with a worthshile commentary here.

Sugar Bowl and Lemons, Painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir / WikiArt

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March 9, 2017