Food Investigators on Wednesday nights isn’t regular SBS fare — it doesn’t contain any nudity and it’s in English, but this week’s edition did contain the startling recommendation that 15 — 20% of your daily energy intake should come from sugar.
In hard hitting style, the show’s host(ess), “hospital doctor, actor and healthy eating enthusiast” Dr Renee Lim was on the trail of some big news. She revealed that “recent studies” show that we are all eating 20 percent less sugar than 30 years ago. This information seemed to come from Dr Alan Barclay who also pointed out that over the same period “rates of overweight and obesity have gone through the roof.”
That was enough for Renee, who pronounced that “too much sugar isn’t the major cause of obesity.” Having dropped her bombshell (or Dr Barclay’s bombshell, it wasn’t clear which), Dr Lim crossed to the show’s built in dietician, Hanan Saleh to find out how much sugar we all should be eating.
Hanan recommends “15-20% of your daily energy intake should come from sugar.” She helpfully explains that translates to up to 32 teaspoons for men and up to 25 teaspoons for woman and children. Concerned that you, gentle viewer, will be freaking out about having to add another 30 teaspoons of sugar to your coffee (just to get your recommended dose), she helpfully explains that 80% of that has already been added to your food by your friendly neighbourhood food and beverage conglomerate (or words to that effect).
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I stayed glued to the Box in the hope that Renee or Alan might pop back in and reference the world changing research they had unceremoniously dropped on the floor. No such luck though. I had to know more, so I emailed Dr Barclay.
The doctor got straight back to me with a clarification that wasn’t in the show. His research has not yet been published. He will reveal all at the Australian Diabetes Society’s annual conference in Adelaide next month. He was stumm as to any further detail.
SBS described Dr Barclay with the brief under-title, “Diabetes Australia”, but there is so much more they could (and should) have told us.
Alan Barclay has a PhD to top up his undergraduate studies in nutrition and dietetics. He is the human nutrition manager at Diabetes Australia-NSW. He’s also a media spokesperson for the Dieticians Association of Australia (having recently completed a media training course at NIDA). So I’m guessing he knows a thing or two about human nutrition (and how to talk to journalists).
So far so good, but then things get a little murky. Alan is also the CSO (I think that means Chief Science Officer) and occasionally Acting-CEO at Glycemic Index Ltd (GIL). GIL is a “not-for-profit company formed by the University of Sydney, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and Diabetes Australia.” It exists to dispense GI Symbols to worthy recipients.
The GI Symbol is the poor relation of the heart foundation’s tick. Prospective supplicants submit their fare for testing, pay the “testing fee” and, if adjudged worthy, receive a little blue G that they can display on their labels.
Just like the tick, the GI program is designed to “help consumers choose healthy foods.” And just like the tick, consumer research shows it actually works. But there is one place you’ll find a GI Symbol that not even the heart foundation has (so far) dared to go. CSR have managed to get one slapped proudly on the front of a packet of sugar. Yep, sugar. The very same stuff that Alan helped SBS point out is no longer a threat to our waistlines.
This is, of course, not news to Alan. He was right there at the launch of the new GI Approved Sugar in March and his boss, board member, Professor Jennie Brand-Miller was widely quoted in support of CSR’s announcement.
At this stage, it seems that only SBS have been privy to Dr Barclay’s paradigm smashing research on sugar, so I can’t comment on that. I do however think it would have been a nice touch to mention his association with a sugar producer. This is particularly important given the program did much more than break the news on the ‘research’ front. It suggested that people should be getting up to a fifth of their calories from sugar (which is more than even Nestle recommends).
How long would a doctor keep his practising certificate if he recommended you increase your dose of a medication in which he had an undisclosed financial interest?
Human nutrition is no longer a soft science or an almost-profession. People base life decisions on the information dispensed by shows like The Food Investigators. The standard “this advice does not take account of your circumstances” disclaimer doesn’t cut it when the advice affects everyone.
The science says there isn’t a category of person who won’t be harmed by sugar consumption. Telling people to eat it in quantity, is like recommending daily arsenic supplements.
David Gillespie is a lawyer and author of Sweet Poison, why sugar makes us fat