It’s just over a week since the sugar tax has been introduced on (almost) all sweetened drinks and whilst we should applaud the government’s intention to look after our health, unfortunately we only shift the problem.
Why has the tax been introduced? Children and teenagers aged 5 and 19 consume the most sugar of all age groups, approx. a quarter of their intake comes from sugary drinks. Hence, introducing the sugar tax to force a reduction in sugar in sweetened drinks seemed a good idea.
Drinks with more than 5g per 100ml are now facing a tax rate of 18-24p per litre depending on the amount of sugar the drink includes.
Exempt from the tax are:
- fruit juices and smoothies (because they don’t contain any added sugar)
- milk drinks and milk shakes (because of the calcium content which promotes healthy bones and teeth)
- diet drinks like coke zero which don’t contain any sugar
From a nutritional point of view, fruit juices and milk drinks should be included!
Here’s why: Fruit juices contain up to 90% fructose. You may not taste the difference between glucose, fructose and sucrose, but your body certainly does. Even though they all provide the same amount of energy per gram, they are processed and used differently throughout the body.
Your body turns most carbohydrates you eat into glucose. This will either be used immediately as energy in your brain or muscles or it will be stored in your muscles or the liver as glycogen.
Fructose on the other hand is only metabolized in the liver. It blocks your fat metabolism, increases your LDL cholesterol and changes your body composition to increase body fat even though you are on a calorie restricted diet (if you are interested, you can find the study here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2682989/) .
In addition to that it can cause Leptin resistance. Leptin is the hormone signalling satiety and a leptin resistance leads to overeating and weight gain.
Fructose is prominent in fruit. But just in case you are wondering if you should stop eating fruit: please don’t! Eating whole fruit is not a problem, because they come with the full package of nutrients, fibre and antioxidants. And it takes a lot longer to eat 3 oranges than drinking a glass of orange juice which contains the same amount of fructose. The speed in which your liver will be flooded with fructose is the issue here. And if you are still concerned, stick to berries which are naturally low in fructose.
Unfortunately, the argument of the milk drinks and their calcium content is not really convincing: There are studies suggesting that sugar can inhibit the absorption of calcium so it’s likely that the benefits of a milk drink are nil when sugar is added to it.
But coming back to the sugary drinks which are now not so sugary anymore – what is going to happen? We have already seen in supermarkets that we either get smaller bottles to ‘retain’ the price or new recipes with less sugar and added artificial sweeteners are being introduced.
You may have followed the Twitter rants from a number of customers who don’t like the new taste of Lucozade and hope to convince them to go back to their old recipe.
From my point of view, the taste is the least of our problems. What will happen is that we shift the problem from the overconsumption of sugar to the overconsumption of artificial sweeteners – with unknown effects and repercussions.
Let’s stick to the Lucozade example:
Here is the list of ingredients of the old Lucozade:
Carbonated Water, Glucose Fructose Syrup (21%), Orange Juice from Concentrate (5%), Acid (Citric Acid), Preservative (Potassium Sorbate), Stabiliser (Acacia Gum), Caffeine, Antioxidant (Ascorbic Acid), Flavourings, Colour (Beta Carotene)
A portion of 250ml provided 155kcal and 33g of sugars
Here are the ingredients of the new Lucozade:
Carbonated Water, Glucose Syrup (11%), Orange Juice from Concentrate (6%), Acid (Citric Acid), Acidity Regulator (Sodium Gluconate), Preservative (Potassium Sorbate), Sweeteners (Aspartame, Acesulfame-K), Stabiliser (Acacia Gum), Caffeine, Flavourings, Antioxidant (Ascorbic Acid), Colour (Beta Carotene). Contains a source of Phenylalanine
Typical values per 250ml: Energy 88kcl, Sugars 11.3
On first sight it’s looking good:
Per 250ml you only get a third of the former sugar content and only half the calories.
But here is the bad news:
Initially I noted is that the list of ingredients is longer which is always a worry.
But there’s more: Old Lucozade contained glucose-fructose syrup, new recipe contains glucose syrup as well as artificial sweeteners, namely aspartame.
When we are looking at the sweeteners which are used, there are two issues. One for the producers – as Lucozade currently sees: the taste of the new recipe. Most artificial sweeteners taste different and customers don’t like it.
The other issues are the long-term effects of artificial sweeteners on our bodies: Research is still ongoing but there are suggestions that artificial sweeteners can cause many problems over time: they can alter gut bacteria, cause dizziness, weight gain, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and birth defects.
One thing we know for sure: if you eat or drink something sweet your body expects calories. If you don’t provide them immediately you will eat more later which can lead to weight gain. Simply swapping sugar with artificial sweeteners is not the solution.
Are there better alternatives?
Our bodies need to be hydrated, the best option would be drinking water. Oh, I hear you cry! I know that this is not the most exciting alternative. So, what are the options? Many companies are currently working on natural sweeteners (there’s one to look out for the people who like to invest in shares 🙂 and it will be interesting to see the outcome of this research. Maybe at one point there will be a sweetener which tastes nice and doesn’t have any calories or side effects.
There are natural (-ish) sweeteners like Stevia and Xylitol available. Both are quite expensive and neither of them is completely acceptable from a nutritional point of view, especially not in higher doses. Some people report a bitter aftertaste in Stevia and the processing that needs to happen to manufacture Xylitol may cause some unwanted side effects if you consume a lot of it. The jury is still out on that.
I did a talk about the topic last week and at the end one of the attendees summarised it perfectly:
‘Is it safe to say that we should just not touch any of that stuff; neither the sugary drinks nor the ones with added artificial sweeteners?’
I couldn’t have said it better myself.