New diet guidelines spark sugar debate

Major grocers and food producers are fiercely opposing Australia's newly-released dietary guidelines, which have included for the first time the advice to limit added sugar.

Public health advocates say it is a critical wording aimed at reducing the nation's obesity epidemic, but critics say there is not enough scientific evidence to justify that advice.

Rosemary Stanton, a nutritionist who sat on the Dietary Guidelines Working Committee, says the contribution added sugar makes has been argued about for decades.

She says the evidence is now strong enough to recommend Australians limit their intake, especially in drinks.

"If you were to have a certain number of kilojoules of bread or apples or something or other else, you will probably cut back on something else you eat," she said.

"But when you take those kilojoules in a sugar-sweetened drink, the evidence shows that you don't cut back on anything else you eat subsequently." Amanda Lee, who chaired the committee, says the new guidelines are based on thousands of peer-reviewed papers.

"The challenge is that there's so many people out there in the community that have got a vested interest in the dietary guidelines," she said.

"Our job is to make sure that the science is very sound and very robust and to spread the messages based on that science." The change in wording from the guidelines of a decade ago has wider ramifications, with the introduction of the word "limit" placing "added sugar" in the same category as added salt and alcohol.

Public Health Association of Australia chief executive Michael Moore says industry will not be happy at all with the advice.

"This statement on added sugar will have a flow-through effect on future debates around labelling, around how governments deal with carbonated soft drinks and other sugary additions," he said.

Industry opposition The Australian Food and Grocery Council, which represents the nation's $110 billion food, drink and grocery manufacturing industry, argued against limiting added sugar.

Deputy chief executive Geoffrey Annison says the jury should still be out.

"Clearly our recommendations weren't heard," he said.

"We will be continually looking at evidence.

In fact there's been evidence even in the last couple of months indicating that sugar is no more than a carbohydrate.

"It does contribute to energy in the diet and of course it is important that people do meet the energy-in, energy-out equation in terms of maintaining a healthy weight." Mr Annison says food manufacturers do not want to wait another 10 years for a review.

"We hope that the dietary guidelines get reviewed more frequently than that.

There's a lot of evidence to suggest that they should perhaps be reviewed every five years," he said.

"But certainly we will be advocating for, as always, the dietary advice that we present to the community and to Australians as a whole [is] based on the best available evidence and indeed the most up-to-date evidence." Good fats The new guidelines also moved away from advising people to stick to low-fat foods, and for the first time encouraged people to replace so called "bad fats" with good ones.

The Heart Foundation says it welcomes the shift, which it lobbied for on the basis that good fats are essential nutrients and protect against heart disease.

The foundation's national chief executive, Lyn Roberts, says the old guidelines lead to people thinking they should cut all fats out of their diet.

"What we know is that there's lots of fats like canola and olive oil, and nuts and fish, that we really want people to consume because they're really heart protective," she said.

"The previous guidelines really advised Australians to chose low fat-foods, whereas we know there's such strong evidence to make the move from bad fats to good fats." Energy balance With rising rates of obesity and overweight, the focus of the guidelines has shifted from food and drink to encouraging people to think in terms of an energy balance.

National Health and Medical Research Council chief executive Warwick Anderson says as well as monitoring what foods they eat, people also need to pay attention to how much energy they expend.  "If people have a better understanding of this need for energy balance, they can apply that concept to their daily lives as they make choices regarding activity levels as well as healthy food options," he said.

In Australia, more than 60 per cent of adults and 25 per cent of children are overweight and obese.

Professor Anderson says the current guidelines reflect widespread recognition that overweight and obesity constitute a global problem requiring urgent attention.  But he says these recommendations are not only for people who are overweight and obese, which is why they encourage people to "achieve and maintain a healthy weight".

"It encourages those who are a healthy weight to maintain that weight.

It also helps to reduce the risk of any unintended negative consequences, such as disordered eating," he said.

"Promotion of healthy weight incorporates prevention and management of underweight, overweight and obesity in children and adults and promotes healthy growth in children."

Market Data

  • Currencies
    Currencies
    NamePriceChange% Chg
    0.9260-0.0027-0.30%
    AUDUSD=X
    0.5512-0.0023-0.41%
    AUDGBP=X
    0.6697-0.0024-0.36%
    AUDEUR=X
  • Commodities
    Commodities
    NamePriceChange% Chg