Cut the sugar intake and live a longer life

2014-06-01 15:01

It’s an oft-repeated statement: sugar is bad for you. So bad that, in an attempt to get consumers to cut down on their sugar intake, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published new draft guidelines in March, which it believes will deal with obesity and tooth decay.

The UN’s public health body recommends sugars should make up less than 10% of total energy intake each day, but cutting down to less than 5%, or about six teaspoons of sugar for an adult of normal body mass index, would have additional benefits.

The 10% guideline has been around since 2002, but that has not done much to dissuade people with a sweet tooth, judging by numbers released this week by South Africa’s sugar barons.

On Monday, both Illovo and Tongaat Hulett, which make sugar products bearing their names, told the market their financial years to March were profitable, though not at the expected margins because world sugar prices are at their lowest level in years.

Illovo made R13.2?billion in sales, compared with just R6.5?billion in the corresponding year to March 2004, its first full year after the WHO guidelines were published.

Tongaat Hulett sold R15.7?billion worth of its products, R6.2?billion coming from South Africa alone. The sales it made here are almost on par with the R6.6 billion the entire group made in 2003, the year after the WHO’s guidelines.

Popo Maja, a spokesperson for the health department, said it supported the WHO’s latest guidelines. But instead of solely focusing on consumers, the food processing industry is in Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s sights.

Maja said: “We are embarking on a health promotion and wellness awareness campaign to educate the public. The 5% is targeted at the food processing industry, which we are yet to engage.”

The WHO said many sugars are “hidden” in processed foods not usually seen as “sweets”. As an example, it cited a tablespoon of tomato sauce, which it said contains about 4g, or about a teaspoon, of sugar.

Pioneer Foods is one of the country’s largest food processors, and its Ouma rusks, Maltabella porridge, Heinz tomato ketchup and Nulaid eggs can be found in almost every kitchen.

If the health department has its way, the company would have to cut tons of sugar from its factory lines.

But Pioneer’s corporate affairs boss Lulu Khumalo said the company is looking forward to possible talks with the department.

“We always welcome an opportunity to engage with government on all regulations concerning the manufacturing of food and beverages. This applies in this instance as well,” she said.

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