Response to ABC Catalyst report 8 August 2013
Heart Foundation response to claims around sugar
No single nutrient is responsible for weight gain or loss. You gain weight if the amount of kilojoules (energy) you eat and drink is more than the amount of energy your body uses each day. If the reverse is true you lose weight.
Similarly a healthy, balanced diet is just that – balanced. It does not involve cutting out any food group entirely. The Heart Foundation recommends eating a variety of foods including your 2 & 5 fruit and vegetables a day, wholegrains and healthier fats.
The Heart Foundation is an independent charity. We are committed to helping Australians lead a healthy lifestyle and to reducing death and suffering caused by heart disease, the number one killer of Australian men and women.
We recognise that issues of health and nutrition can ignite passionate debate, however quoting selective research without looking at the vast body of evidence and attacking our integrity won’t dissuade us from this cause.
The Heart Foundation makes its recommendations based on good quality, strong scientific evidence - not individual opinions, and is continually reviewing the evidence base on which our recommendations are made. Our recommendations regarding Australia’s heart health will continue to be decided by sound science and nothing else
Heart Foundation position on sugar.
The Heart Foundation recommends limiting foods that have little nutritional value while also being high in sugar such as soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit drinks, cordials, confectionery, sweet biscuits and cakes.
There is no scientific consensus that sugar as a nutrient causes heart disease. While overall kilojoule intake is important, other factors such as reducing levels of salt,and saturated fat are more important in preventing heart disease.
The Heart Foundation believes that people need to look at the total make-up of a food, not just one element such as sugar, to determine if it is a healthier choice. If we were to look only at sugars in a food, it would mean foods like breakfast cereals, yoghurts and even fresh, canned and dried fruit would appear to be poor choices as they can be higher in sugars than other foods despite providing vital nutrients for good health.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) also recently reviewed all available evidence to update the Australian Dietary Guidelines and concluded that sugar as an individual nutrient is important in relation to dental caries and sugary drinks can increase the risk of obesity. More information is available here: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines/publications/n55
Heart Foundation Tick
The aim of the Tick Program is to improve the food supply in Australia by encouraging the reformulation of food products to meet Tick criteria standards. Once a food product has earned the Tick it is allowed to have the Tick logo on its packaging. This means that all Australians when shopping for their food can easily identify and choose the healthier options.
The Tick is a Certified Program; every product (no exceptions) must meet our strict criteria to earn the Tick. Food companies pay a licence fee only once their product has met the criteria: it’s just like passing your driving test and paying an administration fee to receive your licence.
Tick licence fees cover the costs of running the Tick program including:
- Regular random audits
- Criteria development and review
- Public education about healthy eating
- Supporting national nutrition research
- Administration of the Tick Program.
The Tick program and sugar:
- Sugar is not a Tick criterion because, based on the current level of evidence, the major public health problems facing Australians such as obesity and overweight, diabetes, heart disease are related to excess energy (kilojoule) intake, not solely sugar as an ingredient.
- Tick criteria takes into account overall nutritional value and total energy. Cereals often include ingredients containing naturally occurring sugar like sultanas that are rich in other nutrients including vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and in many cases, fibre.
- Breakfast cereal contributes to a healthier diet overall by adding important vitamins and minerals, such as thiamine, riboflavin, calcium, magnesium and iron.
- Any future sugar criterion would need to be able identify natural and added sugar to determine overall nutritional value. At present, there is no measure or analysis that identifies natural and added sugar separately, as both are the same chemically.
- Low total sugar does not always mean low in energy or better nutritional quality. Note: Table 1 below lists the energy and sugar content and provides a rating of nutritional quality through the use of Tick and Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criteria (NPSC)* for popular breakfast cereals eaten in Australia. For example, a breakfast cereal such as Special K may be lower in energy and sugar per serve, but rates poorly on nutritional quality, according to NPSC; All-Bran is high in energy and low in sugar but rates as a healthy choice due to its nutritional quality, as per Table 1 below.
- Smaller serve sizes may also give the impression that a cereal has a lower sugar serve than others with a larger serve size, e.g. if Nutri-Grain’s serve size was 45g instead of 30g its sugar content per serve would be 3 teaspoons.
- The milo cereals rate considerably better than Coco Pops for overall nutrition quality. The sugar content of Coco Pops at 11g/serve or the equivalent of just over 2 teaspoons per serve is over a third higher than the Milo cereals.
- For cereals with sugars present as dried fruit, eg. Just right or Sultana Bran, the sugar content will always appear higher due to the natural sugar content of dried fruit. It is important to note that a sugar criterion in this instance would present Sultana Bran as a poorer choice than Coco-Pops.
Table 1: Comparison of energy and sugar content with nutritional quality and healthiness (as determined by the Tick and the Nutrient Profiling Score Criteria (NPSC)*for popular breakfast cereals eaten by Australians
* One way of assessing the healthiness of a food instead of assessing against Tick’s criteria is to compare to the FSANZ (Food Standards of Australia and New Zealand) Health Claims Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criteria (NPSC) which are key to Standard 1.2.7 Nutrition, Health & Related Claims. This was legislated in January 2013 and the NPSC determines whether a food is healthy enough to carry a health claim based on its nutrient profile. It uses a range of nutrients and ingredients to calculate a score for a particular food, i.e. energy, protein, saturated fat, sodium, sugar, fibre and the fruit, vegetable, legume and/or nut content. A score of under 4 means that the food would be healthy enough to be able to carry a health claim.