You may have heard about the Australian Heart Foundation coming under fire last year for its endorsement of sugar-laden and unhealthy products. Since sugar is scientifically proven to cause heart disease, applying the tick to high sugar items really doesn’t help people in their quest to avoid foods that may increase their risk of heart disease. Since this backlash, you would have thought that the Heart Foundation would review its guidelines, which currently do not include sugar. Instead, here’s what they have to say…
“There is no scientific consensus that sugar as a nutrient causes heart disease. We believe that while overall kilojoule intake is important, other factors such as levels of sodium, fibre and saturated fats and trans-fats are more important in preventing cardiovascular disease.”
Well Heart Foundation, how about the Nurses health study, which involved a mere 75,521 women followed over a 10 year period, which found that a high GI diet significantly increased your risk of heart disease, and the more GI foods you ate the more likely you were to have issues? Does that count?
Just in case you’re not clear on what constitutes high GI, sugar is pretty high on the list! In fact refined sugar will spike your blood sugar levels then send them crashing, a recipe for the development of insulin resistance, which leads to diabetes. You’ll find loads of refined sugar in tick approved foods such as cereals, mayonnaise and sweetened yoghurts.
As well as this, the heart foundation goes as far as defending added sugar, in statements such as this:
“Some healthy, core foods contain added sugars for flavour or food technology reasons, for example in flavoured yoghurt and some breakfast cereals.”
I’m going to argue that if a food contains a lot of sugar, it isn’t healthy anymore. This is like saying that if you add vodka to your tomato juice (sorry bloody Mary drinkers), it is still a health food because it is high in vegetables.
Let’s then examine cholesterol. I believe that the black and white perception that high cholesterol causes heart disease is flawed, however for some this is an important part of their picture. The Heart Foundation treats cholesterol as the devil though, and it would make you ponder why they would not remove sugar from the guidelines based on research such as this:
A study of 6113 US adults published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that there was a statistically significant correlation between dietary added sugars and blood lipid levels.
That’s enough to make me raise my eyebrows. Perhaps the Heart Foundation isn’t fond of reading all the research, just the stuff that helps them to keep doing what they have always done.
And while I’m on a roll, let’s discuss the saturated fat debate. You may have read the article in Time Magazine about a new study that found that saturated fats in fact do not cause heart disease. Here’s the breakdown:
- The meta-analysis (study of studies, for all of you non-academic types) included 47 studies involving over 660,000 people
- They found no link between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease
- They found no link that a high intake of polyunsaturated fats (omega 6 and 9) prevents cardiovascular disease
- They concluded that there was no evidence that swapping out saturated fats for polyunsaturated fats would help prevent heart disease.
So, remind me again – why are we slapping the ‘heart healthy’ tick on foods that are low in saturated fat and high in sugar? It would seem that some of the foods with the Heart Foundation tick, such as sugary cereals, low fat sweetened dairy products and margarine actually aren’t that healthy for us. I could go one step further and say that many of the foods with the tick will indeed increase your risk of heart disease.
I think that the heart foundation has some great community initiatives, just that the tick is not one of them. We need to stop burying our heads in the sand and change our dietary guidelines to suit current research. Obviously, as you can see from the rates of chronic disease, what we are dong is not working. It is not just those that are obese or sedentary that are developing cardiovascular disease, it is those that consume the recommended western diet which is laden with sugar, high in refined oils, high in processed food and low in essential nutrients.
Wake up Heart Foundation – people’s lives depend on it.