Sugar Shock: Namibia’s bittersweet reality…

Sugar Shock: Namibia’s bittersweet reality…

Imagine making an almost life-sized sculpture out of sugar, then eating the whole thing over the next two years. That may sound gross, but many of us in Namibia do roughly the equivalent quite happily. According to recent studies, the average adult eats about 32kg of added sugar annually.

You add sugar to your morning cup of coffee or tea. You bake it into pastries, cakes, and cookies. You even sprinkle it all over your breakfast cereal or your oatmeal for added “flavour”.

But that’s not all. It’s also hidden in some beloved “treats” that people consume on a daily basis, such as sodas, fruit juices, candies, and ice cream. It also lurks in almost all processed foods, including breads, meats, and even your favourite condiments like Worcestershire sauce and Ketchup.

Most people view sugary foods as tasty, satisfying, and irresistible treats. But some scientists believe that there are three words that can more accurately describe sugar: toxic, addictive, and deadly.

Experts argue about how much sugar active people need, but all agree on one thing: We eat too much of it for our own good.

One such scientist is Samantha du Toit, well-known and respected nutrition and dietetic consultant from Eat Clean Namibia. She and her partner, Annalien Turner, point out that sugar has no nutritional value, just energy – empty kilojoules, compared to a fruit with high sugar contents but also high nutritional value due to vitamins and fibre.

“Sugar is addictive: the more you get in, the more your body will crave it. Sugar provides the ideal chance for you to become obese and obesity could lead to chronic lifestyle diseases: currently the main cause of premature morbidity and mortality,” notes Du Toit.

She says sugar only feeds the bad bacteria in the digestive tract, which can negatively affect your entire immune system. “Sugar provides a short burst of energy and it is not nearly as effective as energy derived from fibre-rich starch, beans, fruit, vegetables and milk,” she observes.

Some researchers now label sugar as one of the most damaging substances that you can ingest – and what’s terrifying about it is that it’s just so abundant in our everyday diet. This intense addiction to sugar is becoming rampant, not just among adults, but in children as well.

Studies show that an average American consumes about 32 teaspoons or 126 grams, of sugar per day. It is believed that Namibians on average consume close to this amount, which is about three times the amount prescribed by the heart associations worldwide.

Experts agree it’s alarming, considering our forefathers consumed very little sugar and most likely from healthful natural sources like fruits, and not from the processed foods you see in supermarket shelves today.

What’s even more disturbing is that people are consuming excessive sugar in the form of fructose or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This highly processed form of sugar is cheaper yet 20 percent sweeter than regular table sugar, which is why many food and beverage manufacturers decided to use it for their products, as it would allow them to save money in the long run.

HFCS is found in almost all types of processed foods and drinks today. Public health authorities and highly profitable diet schemes have been hammering home a very simple message for the past 40 years: If you don’t want to be fat, cut the fat from your diet. And since then the number of obese or overweight people in the developing world nearly quadrupled from 250 million to 904 million according to a study published last year.

Over the same period obesity rates in high-income countries increased by 1.7 times. One third of all adults worldwide – 1.46 billion people – are now overweight or obese, says the report from the Overseas Development Institute. And Africans have also become hooked on sugar.

We also know that exercising does not burn enough body fat to make us slender. Otherwise all fitness gym members would be slim in six months, but they are not.

Mainstream diets and pharmaceutical pills and shakes also do not work either, otherwise we would all lose weight and stay slim. This is because all major mainstream diets are subject to industrial and commercial interests that drive profits through product sales more than they embrace care and real, lasting weight-loss solutions.

We know that a calorie is not a calorie; 100g of fructose syrup doesn’t have the same nutritional value as 100g of spinach or 100g of grilled lamb rib.

What the mainstream schemes tell people to do to lose weight – eat less and exercise – is exactly what one would do if you wanted to make yourself hungry.

The reason is that refined carbohydrates raise your insulin levels. Scientists have known since the early 1960s that insulin is the primary hormone that regulates your fat tissue. This is not controversial – if you go to an endocrinology textbook and look up what makes a fat cell fat, it’ll tell you all the ways insulin does it. Then you look up obesity, and it’ll say people get fat because they eat too much and exercise too little.

There is a complete disconnect between the fundamental science and the public perception on the cause of human obesity. The craving for sugared foods can be like a drug addict craving a fix. Sugar addiction is perhaps the most insidious because the substance is so cheap, so available and so universally regarded as a safe sweet treat or reward. Statistical evidence paints a more bitter reality: sugar addiction leads to weight problems and obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, fatty liver disease, high cholesterol, and a host more non-communicable diseases.

Fortunately in most cases these diseases can be prevented and reversed.
In Namibia, over-weight and obesity rates, both in children and adults have sky-rocketed in the last 40 years with alarming associated risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart problems, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes and many more health problems.

To make a long story short: Namibians like too much sugar, leading to the rise of non-communicable diseases in the country. 40, percent to 45 percent of men and women are suffering from high blood pressure and about 60 percent do not know they have high blood pressure until they suffer from a stroke, cardiac disease, etc. The number of people suffering from diabetes stands at 7 percent, according to the World Health Organisation.


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