Sugar Tax

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Thanks to long-term lobbying by Jamie Oliver (pictured below in celebratory mood) and others, the UK Government has announced a tiered tax on soft drinks containing more than 5% sugar.  The most popular fizzy drinks are more than 10% sugar.

JamieOliver_Vsign

The tax will not start until 2018 and HMG has not told us what the tax rates will be, but according the CNN “Government documents suggest the tax rate could be equivalent to £0.18 ($0.25) and £0.24 ($0.34) per liter, depending on the sugar content.” This would add a pretty solid percentage to the retail price and yield revenue estimated at £520 million per year.

The policy is supported by an excellent report by a Government agency called Public Health England.

I’m in favour of letting people make their own decisions, good or bad, but I’m also in favour of pricing things to reflect the full cost of their production and consumption. Since excessive sugar consumption imposes enormous costs on society in the form of health care and lost productivity, I consider the Old Country’s sugar tax a partial correction of a market imperfection.

Actually, Mexico has already done it and the evidence suggests that it’s working as intended.  So well done, Mexico. But – unfairly perhaps – people are likely to take more notice of what the UK does, and perhaps emulate it.

Corporate Shame

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When I heard the news story about Volkswagen and its ‘defeater’ system designed to cheat US emission testing, I thought I must have misunderstood it. Directors and managers have a duty to maximise shareholders’ profits, but Google’s motto “Don’t be evil” attracts laughter because it’s just too obvious to require formal expression. In any case, the damage that discovery of an offence like VW’s is bound to wreak upon the company would surely be so great as to deter any board from allowing it.

But cast your mind back. Remember the revelations about LIBOR fixing by major banks? Remember Goldman Sachs’ complicity in Greece’s fraudulent entry into the Euro Zone? Remember the tobacco industry’s persistent denial of the harm for which its products were responsible? The list is much longer than this. I invite you to add your own recollections.

Now allegations are being made about similar malpractices by the sugar industry. It’s too early to use words like “crime” or “criminal”, and perhaps in the strict legal sense no crimes have been committed. But there is plenty of evidence that the food manufacturing industry as a whole has a pretty casual attitude to its customers’ wellbeing.

My first ever post was about dieting. I wrote about Mrs SG’s success with the 5+2 diet and I offered 8 rules to follow for a healthy diet compatible with a modern lifestyle. Here they are again. Numbers 6, 7 and 8 will not make me popular with the food industry:

  1. Consume 1,100-1,300kcal/day normally, but no more than 500kcal on 2 days per week (the ‘fasting days’).
  2. 1,300kcal/day is less than the normal maintenance level for an adult, and it may be exceeded on special days when we entertain guests or go out to eat.
  3. Consume 30-50 grams of protein every day, including the fasting days.
  4. Every day consume less sugar than protein.
  5. Eat small amounts of a wide variety of things.
  6. Don’t buy anything without reading the nutritional data and comparing with other products.
  7. Always eat unprocessed food in preference to processed.
  8. Prepare meals in your own kitchen as much as possible. You don’t know what’s in a restaurant or take-away meal.

Slimming With Cold Water

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Like 10 million others around the world, I like to watch Judge Judy. In Australia it is preceded by another American programme in which a panel of doctors advise a live audience on medical matters. I think it’s mainly a vehicle for promoting health-related products, but I’ve only ever seen the last couple of minutes so I can’t be sure.

In those closing minutes the chairman always offers a tip. The last one I heard intrigued me: Drink 5 glasses of cold water daily and lose up to 5lbs annually. In principle it makes sense. Anything cold that we ingest absorbs heat energy from our bodies to bring it up to the core body temperature of 37°C. But 5lbs (2.3kg) per year?

I made my own calculation:

  • 5 x 250ml = 1,250ml = 1,250cc
  • Assume that ‘cold’ means 5°C
  • By definition, heating 1,250cc of water through 32 degrees requires 1,250 x 32 = 40,000 calories (or 40 kilocalories) of energy.
  • 40 x 365 = 14,600kcal per year.
  • Fat stores energy at the rate of 9,000kcal/kg.
  • Therefore 14,600kcal is equivalent to 1.6kg of fat.

So 2.3kg seems a bit high, but it’s the right order of magnitude. And even at the rate of 1.6kg per year, starting at age 20, most people would disappear altogether before they get to 65. So there would be a big saving in pensions.

Successful Dieting

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When it comes to dieting – or anything else for that matter – there’s no one size that fits all. But let me share what I have learned in the course of helping Mrs StroppyGit to lose a few kilos.

Over the years Mrs SG tried various dieting systems, all of which cost money and were entirely ineffective. Then I heard about the 5+2 diet, which simply involves consuming a maximum of 500kcal* on each of 2 days per week and eating normally on the other 5. I agreed with Mrs SG that she would eat only what I served to her.

Then I set up an Excel model and entered the calorific value and the percentage of protein and sugar in each kind of food that we routinely eat. These data are freely available from many websites. I used a US site called http://nutritiondata.self.com. I also checked the nutritional data on all the packets and tins in our kitchen.

With that preparation, I only had to weigh each ingredient that went into the food I served to Mrs SG and enter the weight into the model. That gave me a daily calorie count and also the number of grams of protein and sugar. Of course, there are lots of other components of food that matter and which a real dietitian would measure and adjust. But I just followed a few simple rules:

  1. Consume 1,100-1,300kcal/day normally, but no more than 500kcal on 2 days per week (the ‘fasting days’).
  2. 1,300kcal/day is less than the normal maintenance level for an adult, and it may be exceeded on special days when we entertain guests or go out to eat.
  3. Consume 30-50 grams of protein every day, including the fasting days.
  4. Every day consume less sugar than protein.
  5. Eat small amounts of a wide variety of things.
  6. Don’t buy anything without reading the nutritional data and comparing with other products.
  7. Always eat unprocessed food in preference to processed.
  8. Prepare meals in your own kitchen as much as possible. You don’t know what’s in a restaurant or take-away meal.

Let me expand a little on No.5. There’s an old song that goes “A little of what you fancy does you good.” My mother often quoted that song, applying the sentiment to food. A narrow diet is necessarily a poor one.

And I will expand on No.6 too. The corporations that manufacture and distribute our food are not our friends. They are amoral organisations designed to generate income for their shareholders, directors and senior managers. Credulous customers who become obese, unhealthy or malnourished are collateral damage. For example, when fat was the big enemy many products appeared on supermarket shelves labeled ‘Low fat’. The labels were truthful, but they failed to mention that the products contained lots of sugar and therefore calories.

I’ll give you an example to illustrate that last point. Mrs SG and I like different yoghurts. Hers is labelled ‘Low fat’ and contains 1,120kcal/kg. Mine bears no such label and contains 620kcal/kg.

Oh, and I should add that after 5 months of following this regime Mrs SG has lost 10kg and her BMI is within the healthy range. She looks and feels good and has suffered no bad side-effects.

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* kcal = kilocalorie(s), 1 kcal being the heat required to raise the temperature of 1kg of pure water from 20 degrees to 21 degrees Celsius. It is commonly called a calorie in the dietary context, which is confusing. The kilojoule (kJ) is another measure of the same thing. 1kcal = 4.2kJ.