We have already looked long and hard at the problems posed by the mass production of milk. In summary, our milk is nothing like that which comes out of a cow. It is getting watered down with permeate and lactose, and the protein creamed off for American body builders. The nutritional quality of our milk is also falling as our dairy industry is intensified. We won’t revisit those issues here.
However, the milk products we dangle in front of our children are even more bastardised. They contain a gut load of sugar, yet are still marketed as having the same health benefits as normal milk.
In its advertising Milo boasts that it boosts the calcium content of milk by 50%. Ethically they should declare that it also boosts sugar intake by 70% compared to milk. Don’t count on it.
Anchor has the Calci Yum brand that is evidently pushing its products as a source of calcium for kids. That is true enough – one pottle of the ‘dairy food’ (please don’t grace this stuff with the name yoghurt) provides 40% of the recommended dietary intake of calcium. But in Calci Yum that also comes with a dump of sugar; one pottle contains around 4 teaspoons of sugar, which according to American Heart Association guidelines is more than 40% of your recommended daily intake. If it’s a child imbibing this stuff, it’ll be more than 40%.
Incredibly, the 250ml Calci Yum chocolate flavoured milk actually has less calcium in it than the standard blue top milk made by Anchor (which also makes Calci Yum). This is despite having more than double the amount of sugar – in fact it contains more sugar per 100ml than Coke. A source of calcium? Yes but a lot more besides. Don’t expect the producer to highlight the bad news.
Even yoghurt has been bastardised for our sweet tooth. Sugar is the second largest ingredient for most of the regular Fresh and Fruity yoghurts, and most of them have more than 10% sugar, making them similar to Calci Yum. Frozen yoghurts have long been the refuge of the worried well looking for a healthy alternative to ice cream, but they are even worse. Frozen yoghurts may have less fat than their ice cream alternatives, but they usually make up for this by piling in the sugar.
There is a lot of controversy around our recommended intake of sugars. The World Health Organisation recommends restricting the amount of ‘free sugars’ (added sugar, honey, fruit juices, andsyrups) to less than 10% of the dietary energy intake. For the average adult, this means about 10-13 teaspoons of sugar each day.
A number of objections came from around the world, most of them predictably backed by the sugar industry, including our own New Zealand Sugar Company Ltd. A number of the industry claims were just plain bogus, and we won’t bother discussing them. But their key objection was the lack of science around the 10% recommendation, and they pointed to other science which has recommended up to 25% of the daily energy intake could come from sugar.
There are no firm answers to these questions, because it really depends on what else a person is eating. The problem with refined sugar is that it increases a person’s energy intake without containing any nutrients that are a necessity for processing the impact of sugar intake. This lack of balance is a major contributor to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The 10% figure comes from the evidence that eating more sugar than this leads to a higher risk of dental problems. Other scientists have calculated that so long as – and this is a critical proviso – a diet was otherwise completely nutritionally rich, then up to 25% of energy could come from refined sugar — the data used by the sugar industry to object to the 10% figure. But how many people have perfect, nutritionally rich diets aside from their sugar intake? The answer is bugger all. And we don’t even know how many nutrients are enough anyway?
So in a way, the whole argument is hilarious – an argument over how much nutritionally pointless junk we can handle in our diet. The essential point that’s missed is that there is no risk to someone’s health from not eating enough sugar, so the short answer is that we should minimise our sugar intake and stick to the sugar we get through natural foods like milk and fruit. This is by far the safest course. Sure, there is no definitive proof to say at what level sugar intake becomes harmful, but the vast bulk of evidence suggests that the more sugar people eat, the more weight they gain.[i]
Certainly any producer claiming the nutritional benefits of the milk in their products should also be bound to point out the downsides of the sugar in it. And don’t expect voluntary adherence to such a balanced and honest approach. It is the nature of hip pocket self-interest that sugar pushers will only disclose what they think will entice you to buy more. Charming.
[i] Te Morenga, L., et al Dietary sugars and body weight: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and cohort studies. BMJ 2012;345:e7492 doi: 10.1136/bmj.e7492 (Published 15 January 2013)
This blog is part of a series – “The twelve fake foods of Christmas”
We don’t want to get all bah humbug about your Christmas celebrations, after all this is the one time of year you should be able to let your hair down a bit and not feel guilty about it. But it is a good time to highlight some of the fake foods that can cause some damage if we get into the habit of eating them. We’ve particularly targeted the foods that are marketed to us as “healthy” in an effort to get us to eat them every day, when in fact they are complete junk and should be confined solely to the annual Christmas binge.
12 Fake Foods of Christmas no.1: Cereal Killers