Dr Robert Lustig argued the food industry on both sides of the Atlantic had “unbalanced” consumers’ diets with sugar-laden foods.
“What has happened over the past 30 years is not an accident,” Lustig told the BBC Radio 4’s PM programme this week (March 11).
“The fact is anyone who tries to lose weight gains it back … because the food that we eat is, for lack of a better word, contaminated and that is with extra levels of sugar.”
‘Spiked with added sugar’
“Right now in America, the current consumption of sugar is 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day – 450 calories a day – and 80% of items in modern grocery store are spiked with added sugar. And the UK is exactly the same.”
But Terry Jones, FDF director of communications, speaking after the broadcast dismissed Lustig’s claims. UK food and drink manufacturers have a long history of reformulating product recipes to reduce their saturated fat, salt and energy density in line with expert scientific opinion, he said.
“This work forms part of a broader drive by industry to enable and empower healthier choices. That work is supported by the provision of clear on-pack nutrition labelling and the development of new healthier products,” said Jones.
“While it is essential that we all recognise the scale of the public health challenge in the UK, it is equally important that we do not conflate the situation at home with that of the US. Differing consumption levels, and ingredient availability and usage, for example, mean that these markets are not interchangeable.”
Lustig insisted “a new food business model” was needed to tackle the obesity crisis by curbing sugar intake in the UK and the US. But he said the food industry “wants nothing to do with this because this is their profit”.
He added: “It is government that has fomented this problem by subsidising the wrong types of foods. In America, it is corn [high fructose corn syrup] and soy because those are storable foods that date back to the Farm Bill in 1933 when we had a destitute population and starving people all over the country. Today, we do not need to subsidise soy and corn where the high fructose corn syrup comes from. We need to be subsidising real food.”
‘Misleading for UK consumers’
“However, high fructose corn syrup or HFCS is an example of an ingredient which is regularly used in the US but which is not used by UK manufacturers,” said Jones. “Miscommunication around HFCS is misleading for UK consumers, as is the vilification of other individual ingredients and foods, as these efforts do not help people build a realistic approach to their diet.”
Lustig was visiting the UK at the invitation of the Food and Behaviour Research Foundation and to promote his new book ‘Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease.’