Episode 94 Summary

  • Junk food companies use a variety of advertising techniques to hook consumers on their product. They use bright, colourful packaging to attract the eye. They also use imagery in the advertising of their products which associates these products with positive emotions like happiness and joy, healthy activities like sports, and desirable relationships like friendship and love. Products are advertised in a way that associates the products with relaxation, good times or  fun. They use catchy slogans which imprint into our memories. This is especially effective on children.    
  • The “health food" industry is like a wolf in sheep's clothing. Clever labelling tactics and “health washing” of products is used to mislead consumers into believing that products are healthy when they are not.
  • No added sugar often means “no added cane sugar or sucrose”. These products may still contain syrups like agave or rice malt syrup which is basically pure glucose. Glucose is a form of sugar. 
  • Junk food may be specifically engineered by food scientists who test, research and refine the products to release as much dopamine (our pleasure hormone) as possible from our brains. This may lead to cravings and addictive behaviours from consumers. These same companies then put the responsibility on to the consumer to regulate their intake of these hyperpalatable foods as part of a “balanced diet”.
  • Junk food is not a “treat”. The definition of a treat is “an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure.” These foods may be engineered to give maximum pleasure but they are so commonly and constantly available now that this messaging is misleading.
  • Real Life Medicine doesn’t believe that foods are good or bad, but that some foods are unhelpful due to the effects they have on a person or population. An insulin resistant person or a person with type 2 diabetes will not benefit from consuming processed carbohydrates of any sort. A metabolically flexible person who is active may be able to consume complex carbohydrates without the same negative effects. 
  • Highly processed grains that have been made into flour contain carbohydrates, or starches which are long chains of glucose, and a small amount of protein.  Therefore  highly processed foods made from carbohydrates are effectively made of mostly sugar. Health washing is often used to make these foods sound healthy or beneficial for energy levels or athleticism. These foods are often marketed towards children, or the companies sponsor children’s sport to form a positive association with health.
  • Check out Dr Lucy’s fun and educational series “50 Shades of Sugar” on Instagram @real_life_medicine to learn more, or join the No Sugar Challenge to take your first powerful step towards breaking free from sugar!
Click here to learn more about the 7 Day No Sugar Challenge

Show notes:


50 Shades of Sugar


Dr Mary Barson:(0:11) Hello, my lovely listeners. I'm Dr. Mary Barson.


Dr Lucy Burns:(0:15)  And I'm Dr. Lucy Burns. Welcome to this episode of Real Health and Weight Loss. Good morning gorgeous ones. It's Dr. Lucy here. I had such a good time flying solo last time that I thought I'd give it another crack. So today, I'm talking about one of my most favourite topics, which is sugar. And if you've listened to last week's podcast, again, it was all about carb addiction. But most of you know now that I am a recovered sugar addict. So sugar previously dominated my life. I could not imagine a day that would go by without having a snack, a bag of licorice bullets, a bag of Maltesers, ice cream and dessert. I always, always call myself a sweet tooth and I would watch all of those shows on telly that were about cooking. My favourites were always the desserts, so my whole identity was wrapped up in sugar.


(1:26) Today, I'd love to talk to you about a concept I'm calling 50 Shades of sugar. So it's just a little play on words, obviously. But there are about 50 different names for sugar, and food manufacturing companies will use these to disguise sugar in their products. So I've got two particular beefs that I'd love to talk to you about. One is junk food.  So junk food is not.. like it's really obvious. You know. I don't think there is anybody out there claiming that a Mars bar or a bottle of Coke is healthy. So we've got junk food as one thing that I want to discuss today. But the second thing I want to discuss, which I think is even more sinister. The thing I call “The wolf in sheep's clothing”. It is the type of food that is considered “healthy”, which markets itself as “healthy”, which has this concept that we call “health washing”. These are products that will often have labels with things like, ‘No added sugar’, ‘High fibre’,  ‘Good source of calcium’, ‘Recommended daily content of iron’. Various health claims  and what they actually do is cover up the fact that they're really just a pile of rubbish. So we're going to get into those two concepts today. And I know sometimes people will feel that my - and maybe I am - maybe I'm like a reformed smoker - that my attack on sugar is a little over the top. But I feel like I need to do this to counter the relentless messaging we get about sugar or processed food being ‘good’ or ‘fun’ or ‘a treat’. 


(3:24) This type of messaging can be seen in other products. Interestingly, it's not seen in smoking and we don't have smoking advertising anymore, for good reason. So smoking used to be heavily advertised and there was imagery that went with it. So for blokes, it was all about the Marlboro Man. It was often a bloke on a horse. There was all this kind of tough man imagery that went with smoking. And for women, it was often about tropical islands. Surprisingly, fresh air. And that imagery went with smoking. Now, the thing that's happened in Australia in particular, is not only is all advertising of cigarettes banned, but packaging has been banned, too. So we now have plain packaging. All cigarettes look the same. Now, there was a lot of pushback from the tobacco industry about that and with good reason. Because colour, imagery, size - they all sell! If they didn't sell there wouldn't be the pushback.


(4:41)  So these are all the techniques that are used to advertise junk food. So Coke uses imagery, of fun, of people being active outside. They're often playing volleyball. They're at a beach. They’re gathering, there's always groups of people.  They're always interacting. They're always laughing. Coke has a motto at the moment of ‘open happiness’. So Coke is aligning itself with happiness.


(5:14) The other technique that junk food companies have is colour and fun. So the wrappers of all their chocolate bars, they're always brightly coloured. Smarties, m&ms, Skittles, it's all about the bright colouring because we as humans are attracted to that. We love colour. Chocolate is all about the colour now, they put in all different coloured things. The packaging is all coloured. The packaging is bright. It used to be that chocolate came in a silver packaging with maybe just a plain paper wrapper. And now it's always a plastic wrapper, and it's often brightly coloured. I'm thinking of Crunchie bars, which are gold, Peppermint Crisps, which are that bright green, Violet Crumbles, which are bright purple. There are things to draw your eye.  


(6:10) Packaging makes a huge difference, but the thing I guess that is most disturbing about junk food is that it is engineered. It is engineered to make us addicted. They spend buckets, billions of dollars on food scientists, on testing, on researching, on refining, to find this thing that is called ‘the bliss point’. It is the bit that releases the most amount of dopamine in our brain. So dopamine is our pleasure hormone. It is the bit of hormone that makes us feel good.  It goes, “Ahhhhh”.


(6:54)  And sometimes when you have that first bit of chocolate, your brain does kind of go “Ahhhhh”. Alcohol does the same. And in fact, when I was growing up, there was an ad for Foster's lager, which was a beer, and you'd crack open the beer and they'd go “Aaaah, Foster's lager”. And you know what, that still happens every time I open any kind of fizzy drink. Even if it's soda water or anything, as soon as I hear that “Chhhhh”  I go “Ahhhh, Foster's Lager”.  That is the power of advertising. It imprints slogans, memories, thoughts into your brain and if they've started in childhood, they'll be there for decades.


(7:45)  So companies that then spend a whole pile of money, getting you addicted to their product don't take any responsibility, because much like the gambling industry, alcohol industry, it's always ‘drink in moderation’, ‘gamble responsibly’ or ‘as part of a balanced diet’. Well, if they really wanted you to eat it as part of a balanced diet, they wouldn't be spending the billions on making it hyper-palatable. They wouldn't be spending the billions on advertising and they wouldn't be spending the billions on fancy coloured labelling. So when they say it as part of a balanced diet, what they're really saying is, “If you're addicted to this, it's your fault, not ours”. And that my friends, is absolute B.S.


(8:34) So I think that that's the kind of junk food messaging that I'm really keen to dispel. I guess the final message about junk food that I want to just chat about is the linking of junk food with the concept of love. Now, this sounds really far-fetched, doesn't it? But it is absolutely true. And in fact, there's an ad going around at the moment for ice cream, which spends a lot of time talking about the love that goes into this product. And they even talk about the fact that their ice cream wins more awards than small boutique ice creams because of the amount of love that goes into it. Again, what a load of cock and bull.


(9:31)  The messaging around giving chocolate junk food to people who are sick, to people who are sad, to people that are falling on hard times, is all about this idea that this is how to demonstrate your love for them. Ads again, I’m so scathing, but the advertising industry knows this and they exploit it. They exploit the fact that as humans, we want to demonstrate our love for our fellow humans. And the way we can do this is with food. And the way we can do this is to give and I'm using air quotes, “yummy treat food”, except that it's not a treat. Remember treat used to be something that was done rarely. People have sugar every single day.  Buckets of the stuff, every single day. It's not a treat anymore. 


(10:30) So it's a really big story that's been put into our heads and it's quite hard to undo. I'm sure people think I'm a wowser, that I'm just, mean and stingy. But I'm not. What I just know now is that I don't need to demonstrate or show love through sugary or processed carby food. There's so many other ways I can do it. But again, this is a story that's been implanted in our head for decades. So that's the junk food industry, apart from their overt addiction, and their overt linking of food with love, treats, all of those things. They're not like the “health food industry”. Massive air quotes peeps. The health food industry should be called the “unhealth” food industry, because it is pretending. They're the great pretenders. They are the wolf in sheep's clothing and they are often anything but healthy. 


(11:41) So, you know, most supermarkets have an aisle called the health food aisle. And in my head, I just call it “the unhealth food aisle”. Because the health food aisle is the parts of the supermarket that around the outside. The fresh fruit, the fresh vegetables, the fresh meat, the fresh cheese, the fresh aisle, that's the healthy aisle. The health food is just processed garbage. So the thing about a lot of these so-called “health foods” is that they still have piles of sugar in them. And the sugar is dressed up. So it's called things that sound healthy. There's a product called rice malt syrup. Kind of sounds alright. Rice malt syrup is rice that has been broken down, so processed, into a glucosey syrupy concoction. And basically it is just pure glucose. So rice malt syrup is sugar. It's nothing else. It is just plain sugar. That's all it is. It just sounds different.


(13:01)  A whole host of these syrups. Anything that's got the word ‘syrup’ is just sugar. What these products will put, they'll have ‘“no added sugar”. What they're talking about when you say that on the packet, what they often mean is “no added cane sugar”. So most people know cane sugar, or sucrose or table sugar. That white stuff, whatever you want to call it. That's what they call sugar. You can add in rice malt syrup, and then you can proudly slap on the front of the packet, “no added sugar”.


(13:36)  The other thing that you can do is you can process your grains. So rice flour, for example. So rice is a combination, if we go to whole grain rice. Rice has carbohydrates and carbohydrates are just chains of glucose. It does have some protein and water. They're basically what's in it. Doesn't have much fat in the grains. But when you process it down to flour, you're taking those long starchy chains of glucose, which take a bit of effort to break up and they're basically just produced into small chains of glucose. They’re just turned into easily accessible high GI foods.


(14:23)  The processing is important. So rice flour is completely different to rice. Now, people will go, “But Dr. Lucy, I've heard you say rice is bad.” Now the thing is that I want to be really clear here. Nothing is "good" or "bad". It's all about how it affects the person. So if you are a person who is insulin resistant, or has type two diabetes, and this is a huge portion of the population, then eating carbohydrates of any sort is probably not going to help you, but if you're a metabolically flexible person who is active, then having some carbohydrates if they're complex, so that means they will break down slowly and give you a longer energy source, then that's not going to be too bad. But once you process those carbohydrates, and you turn them from whole grain into processed food, then whatever benefit that was there is completely lost. So if you're feeding your children food that is carbohydrate but is highly processed, then you're basically giving them a bowl of sugar. So a bowl of cornflakes is a bowl of sugar. The glucose comes from the corn, also has a fair bit of fructose in them, we don't need to go on about that. My absolute favourite to get stuck into is nutrigrain, which has been sold to us for years and years as ‘Ironman food’.  It's for athletes! It's for.. and it talks all about strength and all those sorts of again, health washing words. And again, it's just a bowl of processed sugar, processed grains, which are just sugar.


(16:21) And then the other one we've all grown up with in Australia is Milo. “It's marvellous what a difference Milo makes, absolutely marvellous”.  Marvellous because it's basically, again, just a giant tin of flavoured sugar. But what they do is they'll take the words that sound okay.  Words like “oats”. Oats sound like they must be good for you. But if you have a look at Milo, it's a highly processed powder. Doesn't look like an oat at all. There's no oat. Doesn't look anything like an oat. So again, people say well, what am I going to give my kids for breakfast? I would avoid all processed sugary cereals. Focus on giving your kids a savoury breakfast if you can.


(17:13) There's no reason kids can't have a bowl of scrambled eggs for breakfast. If they’re not egg allergic. It gives them a beautiful amount of protein and fat you can and again, you know if kids can have some toast if they want to. It's not the worst thing in the world. Combining that bread though with the fat and the protein will give them sustained energy. If your children are insulin resistant, and sadly insulin resistance does start earlier and earlier these days, then, any sugar, any highly processed carbohydrate is not going to be helpful for them. It's really not. So you know, people go, “What about porridge Dr. Lucy? Porridge is healthy.” 


(17:59) So the way I look at porridge again, is it helpful or unhelpful? If you are an active child or an active young adult, and you're eating some porridge and you're not then popping 10 tonnes of sugar on it? Maybe you might put some cinnamon in it or some spices and maybe have it with some natural yoghurt and a few berries. Well, that's perfectly fine. But what's happening and I see it time and time again, people with type two diabetes being told to eat porridge with a banana and maybe some honey and thinking that's a healthful meal, but for those people it's not because basically their body just processes it like sugar. 


(18:47) So understanding the sugar is so important. Being aware of this concept of health washing, noticing that health washing is actually often marketed to children. Muesli bars, all of those products, they're marketed to the parents to give to the children. They're not healthy. They're not. They're full of sugar. Again, it's this idea. I kind of sometimes wonder, how did we get to this point with things like muesli bars that are then scattered with choc chips or dipped in chocolate, basically to make them palatable? But somehow, we've been tricked into believing they're healthy.  We have got to be more open-minded to the fact that these products are not designed to help children. They're designed to sell products and make money for the company.


(19:42) But the other thing to notice is when these companies align themselves with children's sports. So again in Australia, we have Milo who will sponsor cricket. McDonalds are sponsoring footy. None of these companies are doing this out of pure benevolence. They’re doing it to indoctrinate themselves into kids' sports early. And to, I guess, in some ways healthwash their own reputation. They're not doing it because they’re good companies, they're doing it because it makes money. If it didn't make them money, they wouldn't do it.


(20:23) So just be really mindful that these companies are here to make money by exploiting our natural dopamine responses to food and then sneaking in under the radar, by marketing to our children with this concept of health washing and it's rubbish. So we can wait for the government to regulate that. The wheels of regulation turn slowly. And in actual fact it's highly unlikely that things like that will be regulated, particularly in Australia, and I'm sure overseas because the food and beverage industries have very deep pockets. They spend a lot of money lobbying each of the political parties, whether you're in America, whether you're in Australia, they're clever, they give donations to both sides. So that way, if one side decides not to acquiesce to their demands, well, the other side's got a huge advantage. So they're very, very clever. But they're not here to help us. They're here to make money out of us. And we've got to have our eyes wide open to that.


(21:49) Now, before I finish up, the 50 Shades of sugar, I'm doing a series on Instagram. So please, if you are on Instagram, follow Real Life Medicine @real_life_medicine and go and please “like” because I don't want to be just doing these little reels just for myself. But the second thing is to know that we have the seven day no sugar challenge. Now in this you will be given a program that you get to keep forever which talks more about sugar, its effects on our health and effects on our society. But most importantly, it gives you the tools to be able to stop it. Because I cannot tell you how much better my life is, without sugar dominating and governing every single one of my decisions. I had no idea of the insidiousness of it. But I feel like I'm free.


(22:48)  So not having sugar in my life isn't not about deprivation, it is truly about freedom. And I just love that. So to join the no sugar challenge, it starts - the actual challenge - seven days, which goes from the 22nd to the 29th of August. But we give people a couple of days of prep because people go, “Oh, I want to get ready.” So it will be open from the 20th.  You get a program, a video lesson program, you get a community and you get some live calls with us. It is the cheapest way to work with us. It's $7 for seven days, which is a total bargain. And you will see both myself and Dr. Mary in this challenge. And we would love to see you. You can sign up at www.rlmedicine.com/no sugar, that's rlmedicine.com/nosugar. The link will obviously be in the show notes and we would love, love, love to see you onboard. Alright beautiful people, take good care and I will see you well next week.


(23:56) So my lovely listeners that ends this episode of Real Health and Weight Loss. I'm Dr. Lucy Burns.


Dr Mary Barson:(24:04) And I'm Dr. Mary Barson. We’re from Real Life Medicine. To contact us please visit www.rlmedicine.com. And until next time, thanks for listening. 


Dr Lucy Burns:(24:18) The information shared on the Real Health and Weight Loss Podcast, including show notes and links provides general information only. It is not a substitute, nor is it intended to provide individualised medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor can it be construed as such. Please consult your doctor for any medical concerns.



Click here to learn more about the 7 Day No Sugar Challenge
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