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Mix Things Up This Summer with Alcohol-Free From Time to Time

Just because we are a few days into August doesn’t mean that the summer is over. On the contrary! Sure, the days are getting shorter, but in August the water is usually warmer and it doesn’t require as much self-talk to get into the water beyond your knees.

During the vacay season one glass of rosé frequently turns into two. Even I am guilty of this pleasure. Fortunately, drinks with a lower alcohol content (or none at all) are quite popular right now and it’s about time. Mocktails served now a days are as good as the originals. You shouldn’t have to feel like you’re giving something up when making the choice though like, replacing a glass of champagne with a splash of lukewarm juice or a kool-aid like alcohol-free red wine.

Body and health are good reasons to make the choice but another could be for the sake of children. Too many children grow up with someone near them who drinks too much. The Central Association for Alcohol and Drug Information, CAN, estimates that about 100,000 children in Sweden live with an adult who meets the criteria for alcohol abuse. According to the National Institute of Public Health’s calculations from 2008, it can be as many as 380,000 children.

Why do we drink? Well, when CAN did a survey on alcohol consumption in Sweden, it turns out that we usually drink alcohol because we like the feeling of “having a glass”. Another common motive among the respondents is that parties and other events become more fun with alcohol. Less than one in twenty drinks to forget about problems or not to feel left out.

Perhaps it’s time to question why we bare that perception of that the  party is more fun with a lot of alcohol. And, is it really? If you think about how many children are suffering from adult alcohol consumption, perhaps the fun doesn’t go all the way around the table.

Give it a try, why not give yourself and children a happier summer. Test a few alcohol-free alternatives, or skip the alcohol completely. Mix up a glass of Plato’s bubble or one of the Soki Choi’s kombucha drinks. No one will be disappointed!

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Vegetables can actually prevent disease

Once you start looking into how much food can affect your health, it’s easy to get hopelessly confused. At first glance, it appears that experts disagree about almost everything?

One day you might read that milk is harmful and that the Swedish National Food Agency has changed its dairy recommendations; the next day you may find an article about how much nutrition milk contains and how it is vital for our bodies.

Or to take another example: many nutritionists will tell you to remove gluten from your diet; others argue that the gluten-free trend is just a fad that is not supported by science. And on it goes.

But do these differing opinions, which were all on display in the recent debate on SVT (Swedish Television) “Opinion” mean that, as Giles Yeo says, “Food-as-Medicine” statements are based on pseudoscience that degrades truth and fact? The answer is no. It’s not about pseudoscience.

Though it’s true that researchers do not agree on all the “details,” they are united on some very important overall conclusions. Most notably: a large, varied intake of vegetables every day is important for our health and, in fact, can prevent disease.

There’s a lot of telling research in this field. An exceptionally interesting recent study from Imperial College London shows that eating 800 grams of fruit and vegetables every day can reduce the risk of dying prematurely.

According to the study, 7.8 million deaths could be prevented each year if every individual consumed 10 fruits and/or vegetables per day.

The study also demonstrates that overall health improves the closer you get to 800 grams per day. For instance, eating just 200 grams per day reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by 13 percent, while eating 800 grams of fruits and vegetables per day reduces the risk by 28 percent, compared to eating no fruits or vegetables at all.

Another significant result of eating lots of fruits and vegetables is that your cholesterol levels and blood pressure are both lowered, and, according to the study, the risk of damage to DNA and the risk of cancer also decrease.

It’s easy to despair when it seems like you only ever hear from one extreme or the other – the “blueberries can cure cancer” crowd or the “food as medicine” skeptics. We tend to focus on the details of disagreement and forget that both parties still agree on many issues – including the positive correlation between a largely vegetable diet and good health.

It’s important that researchers continue to debate and figure out exact scientific relationships, but if the reporting is not done properly, we run the risk of internalizing the idea that no consensus exists among scientists, and that there is no evidence at all to prove that what we eat affects us both physically and mentally.

And that would be a pity, especially for our health.

The text above was published on SVT Opinion yesterday.

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Yes, Swedish Food Federation. Sugar can lead to fatty liver disease – here’s an update.

Last Friday we published a clip on the blog from the Swedish television show SVT Plus, in which Ann Fernholm talked about sugar. Shortly after, the Swedish Food Federation’s dietitian, Elisabeth Rytter, had something to say in response. Below is Ann’s answer to Elisabeth Rytter.

Pseudoscience. Not evidence-based. The Swedish Food Federation’s dietitian Elisabeth Rytter has made it clear what she thinks of my statements, and has “corrected” the information about sugar discussed on SVT Plus. According to Rytter, I have spread lies about sugar, and she questions if I’ve actually read the background to the Swedish Food Administration’s dietary advice on sugar. Quote: “It does not say that sugar increases the risk of fatty liver disease.”

She also thinks I have incorrect knowledge concerning fructose: “Fernholm also says that fructose is the culprit, which is a non-evidence-based statement. The focus on fructose and why it’s bad for you is another example of pseudoscience, that has been spread much too widely”.

For those who don’t know: the Swedish Food Federation, that Rytter represents, is a conglomeration of food industry groups such as The Swedish Ice Cream Company, The Swedish Chocolate, Confectionery and Cookie Association, Sweden’s Bakers & Patisseries, and Sweden’s Breweries.

News Flash: sugar is directly related to increased amounts of fat in the liver

Elisabeth Rytter, if you are reading this, I will admit that you are at least partially correct. It was (actually) a long time ago that I read the background to the Swedish Food Administration’s dietary advice. Then again, the latest update they made was in 2012. That’s five years ago, which is a long time when it comes to research and, if you haven’t noticed, many exciting studies have been published in the meantime! Honestly, I hardly know where to start.

But let’s begin with a study conducted by researchers at Sahlgrenska (a university hospital in Sweden). The experiment was conducted as follows: 71 men with abdominal obesity were allowed to drink a liter of lemonade (a total of 75 grams of fructose), every day for 12 weeks. Result: blood-soluble fats were disrupted, and the fat in the liver increased by 10 percent. The researchers reported that “data shows a negative effect as a result of moderate fructose consumption over 12 weeks on several cardiovascular risk factors, especially fat content in the liver…”

The study had no control group, which is a major weakness. BUT, other controlled studies show that fructose increases the fat production in the liver more than, for example, glucose.

Less fat in the liver of children who received (almost) sugar-free food

This summer we received some great news: the amount of fat present in the liver can decrease radically among children who avoid sugar. 41 children struggling with obesity were included in the study. Initially, the children had, on average, about 7.2 percent fat content in their livers. For nine days, they were only allowed to eat food that the researchers gave them. I know that you, Rytter, disapprove of the WHO’s health goal, which encourages an intake of 5% of calories from sugar or less. These children received 4 percent of all calories from sugar, even better.

So what happened? In nine days, the amount of fat in their liver was almost halved.

You have to agree, that’s pretty amazing! Fatty-liver disease was something that, up until recently, mostly affected alcoholics. Now, one out of ten young people in the United States and Europe qualify as having the condition. Fatty-liver disease increases the risk of liver cancer – a cancer that is unfortunately growing in today’s society. It is also a major cause of type 2 diabetes. If the children in the study can reduce or remove the fat from their livers, they can drastically reduce their risk of dying prematurely.

There is another study that I intended to share. It’s about the fact that children with fatty-liver disease have been shown to have an especially high level of special enzymes in the liver, that specifically break down fructose. But I wouldn’t want to kick someone who’s already down. Maybe we should just forget what you wrote about pseudoscience. I won’t tell the researchers at Sahlgrenska, or those in San Francisco. Although their studies could have been better controlled, you might want to think twice before you call them pseudoscience.

Ann Fernholm runs the blog and has written the best-selling book My Sweet Heart. She writes here at Food Pharmacy once a week.





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Santa Maria’s response: we will reduce the amount of sugar.

On Friday, I emailed Santa Maria about their food, asking why some of their products are mostly based on sugar and water. I was inspired to write by the number of people who, like me, are tired of always having to read the ingredients of everything they buy. Below you’ll find Santa Maria’s response, and after that, my answer to them.

Hello Ann, thanks for your email. We absolutely welcome a continued debate about the content of our food. Santa Maria, of course, wants to make products that both taste good and do good. Therefore, we are intensely working on removing sugar, salt and unnecessary additives from our products. We’ve made a fair bit of progress. Since 2015 we’ve removed 395 tons of sugar and 223 tons of salt from our products. But we’re not done. By 2020, we hope to have reduced our total sugar content by 50%, and salt by 25%, compared to 2014. At the same time, I will say that these ingredients play an important role in many of our products. Not only in terms of taste, but in other qualities as well. For example: There are many different ways to make a spice-rub. Ours originated from an American recipe, in which raw sugar (which is by the way, many times more expensive than refined white sugar) is used for flavor and caramelization. If you want a different type of rub you can of course choose another brand, or make one yourself from scratch.

Last but not least, what would you say about coming to Mölndal, so we can explain more about how we work and also hear your thoughts and ideas about what we can do differently?

Have a nice weekend,
Eva Berglie

My response:

Hi and thanks! You’ve made some exciting progress in removing sugar from your food, though it’s not clear if the 395 tons are per year, or total since 2015. At the least, that’s around 40 grams per Swede.

My thought is that food sold in stores should be safe to eat, even in the long run. We consumers should not have to be ”additive-detectives” reading every ingredient list in the store while shopping, but be confident that, for example, a guacamole is based on avocado and not water, starch, thickeners and chlorophyll. We all have incredible biochemical machinery within us, developed through millions of years of evolution. That machinery needs to be filled with vitamins, antioxidants and minerals to work. In addition, our intestinal bacteria need the fibers you find in real foods (for example avocado). Neither sugar or rendered starch adds any vitamins to the body. When you base your food on processed additives the nutrition levels are too low.

I would love to come to your headquarters sometime when I’m close to Gothenburg. It would be interesting to see how the company works, and my hope is that you are open to hearing our perspective, for example about the research that indicates that high sugar consumption can lead to excess fat in the liver. Problems with fatty livers are increasing worldwide, including among children. Figures from the United States and Europe show that one out of ten children are now affected, which is frightening. Fat in your liver leads to type 2 diabetes and liver cancer. Type 2 diabetes can then cause cardiovascular disease, and is also linked to various cancers.

Personally, I think that you who work in the food industry have great opportunities to improve public health. If the food you produce is good for the human body – for example, if you stop basing your sauces on sugar – fewer children and adults will develop obesity and type 2 diabetes. Maybe start with clearly marking the amount of added sugar on the packaging.

Ann Fernholm

Ann Fernholm runs the blog and has written the best-selling book My Sweet Heart. She writes here at Food Pharmacy once a week.