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Sweet Goodbye

Ahmed bin Sulayem

Ahmed bin Sulayem investigates the realities behind sugar and how the sweet isn’t as sweet as once thought.

June 22, 2014 10:15 by

Over the past 60 years there has been a steady increase in awareness about what we as a global community consume in our diets and the residual affects these products have on our health and wellbeing.

To many readers it may seem almost unbelievable that smoking wasn’t officially recognised as being detrimental to a persons health until June 12, 1957, when Surgeon General Leroy E. Burney declared it the official position of the United States Public Health Service that there was a relationship between smoking and lung cancer. It took a further 13 years before advertising cigarettes on television and radio was banned.

In the decades that followed, in particular through the development of the health and fitness industry during the 1980s, the integration of taking regular exercise and being more selective about what people ate became a fashionable lifestyle choice, leading to popular international programs such as ‘5-a-day’ (promoting the consumption of at least five pieces of fruit and vegetable into your diet), and catchphrases such as ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’.

Certainly, while there has been an indisputable increase in awareness about the dangers of obesity and poor diet, there is one ingredient which remains a silent destroyer of health in many people’s diets: sugar.

Acknowledged by nutritionist and personal trainer Kris Gunnars as ‘the single worst ingredient in the modern diet,’ sugar is accountable for a wide variety of ailments ranging from liver disease through to diabetes, so how is it that there isn’t greater awareness about the sour side of sugar?

For many people of our generation the integration and consumption of sugar is simply a part of our society, whether through obvious commodities such as processed chocolate or more subtly through so called ‘healthy’ juices that have been proven to contain similar levels of sugar as carbonated soft drinks such as Coca Cola.

While many parents attempt to keep their children healthy by providing a balanced diet, I remember socialising with friends and one parent in particular who refused to allow his children to consume any processed sugar products. At the time, I remember thinking how extreme this level of regulation seemed, however in retrospect, Mr. Mohammed bin Ali Al Abbar, Chairman of Emmar and a member of the Expo 2020 Preparatory Committee, was in fact years ahead of his time; something which will have indisputably benefitted his children’s health and development.

Arguably the two issues which will need to be overcome in order to support a healthier society will rest in two areas; firstly through education and secondly through the transparent labelling of products with their true nutritional value.

In a similar way to how the world used to perceive cigarettes, I believe a similar shift in attitude will occur towards sugar as people begin to understand the true extent of the damage it will cause.

Not just reserved for the majority of us that work in a sedentary environment, there is now a growing link between the injuries of sporting professionals and their sugar consumption, most recent examples such as the basketball players Derek Rose and Dwight Howard, the latter of whom used to consume approximately the equivalent of twenty four Hershey bars per day according to a recent article published in CBD Sports.

What many people fail to realise is that sugar, whether burned (through exercise) or not still causes damage to your body, in a similar way in which one would exhale smoke from a cigarette. In a wide variety of testing, sugar consumption has been linked to a number of ailments including calcium depletion and excessive cortisol levels, both of which can have negative effects on bone health.

The good news is that there are positive movements towards changing attitudes and accessibility to unhealthy products, the most recent initiative requiring calorie information to be put on vending machines by law in the United States.

Certainly GCC countries such as UAE would greatly benefit from implementing the removal of vending machines that sell processed sugar products, and support parents and guardians alike who ensure a healthy balanced diet for their children and help to reduce the unacceptable statistic of the one in three children who suffer from obesity in our country.

Even for adults, one of the primary issues of sugar within Arab culture is that it was never a part of it. With a high proportion of our society having a type O blood type, our physiology is far less equipped to deal with processing sugar than say a general cross section of Europeans who’ve been consuming sugar for many generations and have had time to adapt. According to recent statistics, it is anticipated that by 2020, around 32% of all adults in the UAE will suffer from diabetes making sugar a virtual kryptonite to our society.

As the executive chairman of the DMCC, it is certainly worth me mentioning to all DMCC members who are involved in the sugar trade to fear not; the bio fuel industry will provide a long and consistent channel for business now and in years to come. In the same way we do not consume fuel oil or coal, neither should sugar company’s worry about a day when their products are solely used as a fuel commodity. If anything it’s a more effective business model as you’ll have no necessity to advertise to target audiences and the end user will always be the same.

In terms of how society will eventually realise that a change needs to be made; it is just a question of time. In an evolutionary sense, the use of sugar in products such as tea and coffee only commenced to cover poor quality, something that is now redundant. The longer process will be to truly understand what our bodies legitimately require in order to function and furthermore the long-term side effects of consuming sugar.

As far as a social perception is concerned it will be the responsibility of governments and organisations to appropriately manage consumer corporations with the appropriate warnings rather than allow them to cover their tracks through selective advertising and corporate social responsibility, the most obvious examples being the London 2012 Olympics being sponsored by companies such as Coca Cola and McDonalds; a relationship akin to Marlboro sponsoring the Tour de France.

Described by Dr. David Kessler, former FDA commissioner as “one of the great public health epidemics of our time”, perhaps it won’t be long before the leading corporations of the sugar industry will be treated in the same way as the original participating manufacturers  (OPM) of tobacco were towards the end of the last century, leading to equivalent legal proceedings such as the landmark Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement in 1998 which forced the four largest tobacco companies, (Philip Morris Inc., R. J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard) to pay $206 billion over the first 25 years in compensation for tobacco-related health-care costs. Worryingly, the bill for damage created by sugar consumption may eclipse that of tobacco.

Indisputably, as with all positive action the transition will take time; however the first step begins with education and awareness. Do your own research and take the time to understand what genuinely nourishes the body and you will be surprised how effective cutting out sugar can be.

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