Eating a Happy Meal might make your toddler happy. But in terms of salt, sugar and saturated fat, that meal is an example of what made the United States and United Kingdom rank high on the list of the world's worst diets, reported the Weather Channel on Jan. 17.
The rankings were compiled by Oxfam America, a non-profit global organization. They rated countries based on the rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes, both fueled by bad eating habits.
“Let’s face it — the typical American diet is bad for your health,” admitted Dana Simpler, M.D., primary care practitioner at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland.
“[It’s] the reason why we die of heart disease, diabetes and cancer by the millions. All of us need to rethink the diet we were brought up with," she said.
Trying to do something about it, a group of physicians and health academics has gathered together to demand that food manufacturers reduce the level of sugar in processed foods by 30 percent to reduce disease and obesity. Called the Action on Sugar, the group is based in the United Kingdom but its impact is being felt in the United States as well.
In an exclusive interview on Jan. 19, the Science Director of Action on Sugar, Dr. Aseem Malhotra, who is an interventional cardiologist, explained to me the group's goals and his views on why sugar, not saturated fat, is the enemy.
Dr. Malhotra's views and those of his supporters mark a sea change in the view that saturated fat is to blame for obesity and heart disease. Just one problem, he says: No evidence exists to support the anti-butter brigade, whereas substantial evidence exists showing a link between sugar and obesity.
Moreover, "it's become unavoidable in the American diet." Dr. Malhotra cites statistics showing that one-third of sugar consumption in the U.S. comes from sugary beverages, one-sixth from foods like candy and up to half "from foods that people don't normally associate with added sugar such as "low fat yogurts, ketchup and salad dressings."
As for all those advertisements urging you to eat candy bars for energy?
Dr. Malhotra emphasizes that "added sugar has no nutritional value. Contrary to what the food industry want you to believe, the body requires no carbohydrate for energy from added sugar."
Rather than emphasize carbohydrates like grains and bread, Dr. Malhotra believes that "the best evidence based diet for cardiovascular health is one based on the traditional Mediterranean diet consisting of oily fish, nuts, extra virgin olive oil and plenty of whole fruit and vegetable."
And for those who feel that grains are healthy, he says that low carb diets provide for the "consumption of fats and protein (that) are essential for life. Refined carbohydrates are not."
Need more evidence that sugar is the enemy when it comes to your weight and health? New experiments have shown that too much sugar actually results in brain changes and behavior similar to addiction, reported NPR recently.
When you eat a food with sugar, your dopamine levels surge in the same way as they do when an addict takes a drug like heroin - although the levels are not as high.
But the impact from that sugar results in a cycle leading to cravings, the loss of control, increased sugar tolerance, weight gain and the feeling that you must have another dose of sugar to survive.
In addition. don't make assumptions that certain beverages and foods that seem innocent, such as fruit juice, are free of sugar. In the United Kingdom, a government adviser is warning that fruit juice has as much sugar as Cocoa-Cola and should be banned, according to the Huffington Post.
Susan Jebb, head of diet and obesity research at the Medical Research Council's Human Nutrition Research unit in Cambridge, says that she thinks everyone should "wean" themselves from fruit juice.
“I would support taking it out of the five-a-day guidance," she said.
Learn more about the link between sugar addiction and weight loss by clicking here.