Over the past few years, I have called for an overhaul of Australia’s dietary guidelines, including Australia’s Health Star Rating System, which has too often ignored the prevalence of sugar while demonising natural saturated fats.
Classic examples of this idiocy are illustrated in the below examples (photographed at my local super market) showing sugar laden foods given healthy ratings, while natural foods containing so-called ‘unhealthy’ saturated fats are given low ratings.
First, consider reconstituted apple juice, which contains a whopping 26.8 grams of free sugars per serve, but receives a 5-star health rating:
Next, here’s a highly processed box of cereal, like the one shown below, which receives a healthy 4-star rating and the Heart Foundation Tick despite containing 23.5% sugar:
And how about a processed sugary chocolate-flavoured “Up and Go” milkshake, which contains 19.3 grams of sugar per serve, receive a healthy 4.5 star health rating?
Next, until very recently, Milo received a healthy 4.5 star health rating when it is made up of nearly half sugar:
And here’s a sugary processed “Roll-up”, which contains 26.7% sugar, but somehow still managed to receive a 3-star rating:
On the flipside, where is the logic or evidence to support giving natural virgin coconut oil – chock full of beneficial medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) – a half star rating because it is 90% saturated fat:
Or giving natural full fat Greek yogurt only 1.5 stars, because it contains ‘high’ saturated fat (but zero added sugar):
Tonight, ABC’s Four Corners will present a report entitled “Tipping the Scales: Sugar Politics and What’s Making us Fat”, which investigates the power of Big Sugar and its influence on public policy. Below is a teaser from ABC News:
Australia still has no national obesity strategy.
What we do have are two key federal programs — the Healthy Food Partnership to encourage healthy eating, and the Health Star rating, a front-of-pack labelling system.
But the rules for these two initiatives have been set by committees made up of government and public health advocates, as well as food industry representatives.
According to one insider who spoke to Four Corners, “the reality is that industry is … making most of the policy”, and public health advocates are only included “so we can have the least-worst solution”…
From its role in shutting down debate about a possible sugar tax to its involvement in the controversial health star rating system, the industry has been remarkably successful in getting its way…
Companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Unilever, Nestle and Kelloggs have a seat at the table setting the policies that shape consumption of their own sugar-laced products.
As Australia’s obesity and diabetes rates continue to soar, public health advocates have told Four Corners the industry has been obstructing and delaying policy outcomes that would lead to better health.
And they have likened their tactics to those deployed by the tobacco industry.
Is there any wonder why sugar consumption is sky-high in Australia, and ‘diabesity’ is a growing epidemic, when our nutritional science establishment and public policy largely ignores sugar’s infestation within our food?
The sensible public policy position should be to encourage Australians to avoid packaged and processed foods in favour of natural whole foods, since these are almost always the healthier option.
As an aside, if you want a clear explanation of the genesis of Australia’s dietary guidelines (which were passed down from the US), make sure that you watch the below presentation by Dr Zoe Harcombe, who wrote her entire Cambridge PhD thesis on the topic: