Balance, moderation and physical activity can beat sugar tax

August 30 2019

Anybody who chooses a sugar-laden soft drink to a squeezed concoction of fruits and vegetables knows the feeling of enjoyment they experience while sipping that sugar-laden drink.  It is something people have known for centuries. 

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan started a fierce debate last year when he announced the implementation of a sugar tax on sweetened beverages.

During parliamentary hearings, industry leaders said the tax would be detrimental to the industry, citing amongst other consequences, job losses. 

Some critics of the sugar tax say it is unfair to focus on a single ingredient such as sugar or fructose to address societal health challenges outside multiple factors, including tobacco use, harmful alcohol use, and unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity.

Some say taxing sugar-sweetened beverages will not reduce obesity, nor will it have a truly meaningful impact on obesity-related health conditions such as diabetes, coronary disease or metabolic syndrome.  

They say a wide range of factors contribute to these health conditions and singling out one ingredient – or one set of products – in such an overly simplistic manner only undermines efforts to combat complex health problems.

There are others who say as our political leaders attempt to translate complex obesity science into public policy, let’s be sure they target the real culprits — too many calories, too little exercise and a lack of moderation in food consumption.

That might sound obvious, but the convergence of public advocacy and health science is often a slippery slope where facts fall victim to volume. After all, whoever yells the loudest and longest is perceived as right and true.

Of course, there are many in the health sector who believe there are benefits for all South Africans.

It is interesting that there has not been any arguments in favour of balance and moderation.

The most effective eating plan is the one that is varied, low in fat, plentiful in vegetables and best of all, knowing how to eat your favourite foods in moderation.

Moderation and balance are indeed the keys to nutritional success.

The concept of moderation is difficult for some to grasp because so many people think about food in terms of good versus bad even when dictionary defines moderation as the “avoidance of extremes or excesses.”

Applied to food and drinks, it means eating a variety of food, but only as much as your body needs.

So how much sugary drinks or food do we need? The answer varies from person to person, depending on factors such as age, health, sex and activity levels.

The World Health Organisation says one teaspoon of sugar contains about 16 calories, and that’s a fairly low amount. However, the WHO says when one consumes a product of which sugar is an important ingredient, you’re no longer talking about 16 calories. For example, a can of a sugar-laden drink contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar and approximately 160 calories, and you are no longer drinking in moderation.

Therefore, for the average person, a teaspoon of sugar in a cup of tea or coffee can be considered a low-calorie sweetener. Even an occasional slice cake is no reason to be called an addict.  But the regular consumption of sugar-sweetened products adds a substantial amount of calories, thus driving one towards obesity.

The conclusion is, obesity arises from consuming too many calories from all dietary sources over a prolonged period of time — with no compensating increase in exercise.

So, sugar is just a small portion of the excessive number of calories that many of us are taking in.

Also of substantial concern, is our failure to burn off that caloric surplus. As a society, we have engineered physical activity out of our days. Just about every day, there is something new that saves us the effort to get up and burn the calories.

So, enjoying your food and drinks, eating mindfully and understanding hunger and fullness cues are the best answers to that question.

We need to eat more nutritious, health-promoting foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, lean meats, nuts and seeds. We need to limit food that is overly processed and high in sugar and saturated fat, salt and void of nutrition.

In the final analysis moderation and physical activity are key. Weight gain comes down to calories consumed vs. calories burned.

The key to healthy eating and drinking is not just what you eat, but how much you eat and when. In other words, it’s about moderation.

Like all foods, beverages and ingredients, sugar should be consumed in moderation as part of an active, healthy and balanced lifestyle. 

Therefore our nation’s response to the sugar tax will determine whether we put people on a path of personal empowerment and responsibility or a path to victimhood and government control.

Grace Khoza is Executive Director for Group Branding, Marketing and Corporate Affairs at AfroCentric Group, the parent company of Medscheme.

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