Sugar tax ‘good for KZN’

2014-09-08 00:00

KWAZULU-NATAL would be “the greatest beneficiary” of a sugar tax in South Africa, according to research experts.

And dieticians yesterday said women, in particular, in the sugar province could quickly wean themselves off the added-sugar “killer” — with new diets including chocolate, of all things.

Last month, a report led by the University of the Witwatersrand found that a 20% tax on sugary drinks — including fruit juices — would reduce obesity in over 200 000 people, and save thousands of lives.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has recommended that new laws be made to regulate foods high in sugar to stop an epidemic of diabetes and other lifestyle diseases. SA also has the highest obesity rates in sub-saharan Africa.

A senior co-author of the study, Professor Karen Hofman, told The Witness that KZN would see the greatest number of lives saved due to the “very high” prevalence of diabetes among Indians and black women in the region.

However, she said the province would also likely see the greatest resistance to new regulations — including warning labels on sugary foods — as it was the headquarters of powerful sugar producing companies.

“If added sugar can be seen as a treat, rather than a staple, if would save lives, and huge health costs — and the effect would be felt among children most of all,” said Hofman, “Children who have a sugary drink daily are 55% more likely to become obese as adults. In Mexico, there has already been a five percent drop in sales of fizzy drinks since they added a tax.”

Hofman said urban, middle-class citizens in KZN consumed up to six times the amount of sugar recommended by the World Health Organisation, which is about six teaspoons in all foods consumed. A single tablespoon of tomato sauce contains one teaspoon of sugar, while a single can of soda can pack in up to 12 teaspoons on its own.

According to Harvard research, the sugar in soft drinks is far worse than other kinds: “People who drink this ‘liquid candy’ do not feel as full as if they had eaten the same calories from solid food and do not compensate by eating less.”

Dr Kirthee Pillay, a lecturer at UKZN’s Dietetics and Human Nutrition Department, said recent research had shown that artificial sweeteners did not add to cancer risks — and that they could form part of a tool kit to kick the sugar habit.

However, she said: “It won’t be easy to quit. We must remember that sugar is a comfort food — eating sweet things makes people feel better. It’s when people see the benefits — like wieght loss — that they will stick to healthier diets.”

Jennifer Crawford, a spokesperson for the SA Sugar Association, said: “There is no government proposal for a sugar tax, so we are not commenting.”

An editorial in the latest Cane Growers Association newsletter stated that: “Increasing obesity is linked to changes in lifestyles and habits. Less exercise and unhealthy diets together with cultural circumstances result in obesity. We live in a complex world and perhaps the critics should consider this before … laying the blame of a health crisis at the foot of a single commodity.”

A TOP nutritionist recommends that South Africans “eat chocolate daily” - to help kick their addiction to sugar.

Andrea du Plessis, an expert with the Vital Foundation, told The Witness that dark chocolate contained antioxidants and other healthy compounds, and that research showed that people who had a piece daily “are more likely to stick to their eating plans”.

“[But] do not attempt this with milk chocolate or yoghurt covered ‘health bars’ – these are loaded with sugar and will only make you crave more sugar,” she said.

Du Plessis said weening South Africans off added sugar was a “huge challenge”, as “sweet cravings [have been] compared to drug addiction”.

However, she said other habits could help slash current sugar intake in middle class diets:

* “Snack on a small portion of almonds — research has shown this low GI snack helps control appetite and supports weight loss success.

“Remember to get the plain ones with the skins still on”;

* “Water washes out sweet cravings: Drink at least 6 glasses of water per day. Avoid flavoured water, fruit juices and commercial iced teas, they are loaded with sugar.”

* “green tea promotes fat burning, so it can [also] help with weight loss”

* Gradually reduce sugar added to coffee and tea – the less you use, the less you need”.

* “Try this: eat a low GI fruit such as one apple, or two peach halves one hour before your usual sweet craving hits — usually late morning or late afternoon. Don’t wait for the sweet craving to arrive”.

Australian research David Gillespie has claimed that people “off” sugar for as little as a month find that they can smell sugar for the first time — and are also able to taste new flavours.

He says the human palate adjusts quickly, and permanently, to a low sugar diet.

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