WHO’s mistaken about sugar and salt
Lest we forget, the ongoing demonization of sugar by health advocates, who arguably have misused science to advance their cause, was preceded by another group of health advocates who said that the intake of salt should be greatly reduced as it too is associated with health risks. At the risk of being rhetorical, one would think public health strategiesare based on evidence that holds up to critical scrutiny. New research on salt intake showing that “There is no convincing evidence that people with moderate or average sodium intake need to reduce their sodium intake for prevention of heart disease and stroke”1 is one such example.
This extensive study published in the reputed journal The Lancet, involved 94,000 people, aged 35 to 70, over a period of eight years in communities from 18 countries around the world. The findings showed that there is an associated risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes only where the average intake is greater than five grams of sodium a day. It is very reminiscent of the meta-analysis on dietary sugar and body weight published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) by Te Morenga et al2. In that study, “their conclusion that sugars intake is a ‘determinant’ of body weight” could be applied equally to any caloric nutrient or food.
In his editorial3 in the BMJ, commenting on the study by Te Morenga and colleagues, Walter Willett, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, pointed out that “the association between sugar and poor health has remained contentious over the past few decades.” A totally narrow focus on sugar is simply too limiting, as “Many starchy foods, particularly highly processed grains and potato products, have a high glycemic index, raising blood glucose and insulin more rapidly than an equivalent amount of sucrose.” He goes on to say that “Unfortunately, the 2003 WHO (World Health Organization) report disregarded evidence suggesting that refined grain and potato products have metabolic effects comparable to those of sugar.”
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