Is Milo Poison?
So recently, the CEO of mindvalley, Vishen Lakhiani not too long ago, posted a video in conjunction with the NEW YORK TIMES article titled: “In Asia’s Fattest Country, Nutritionists Take Money From Food Giants”.
In the video he expresses that big multinational companies like Nestle, are intentionally adding excessive amounts of sugar, which he equates to as poison, into their products.
He also claims that these products are lied to be safe and a healthier choice for consumption, products namely such as Milo and honey stars which comprises a huge chunk of the childhood memories of many Malaysians.
This led to many of my friends and relatives shouting to me, what’s the deal?
So to those who don’t know me, I am a practicing dietitian, working mainly in the community, educating people about preventive dietetics and nutrition. So naturally, many who knew of my background came to me seeking for resolution.
So here’s what I think.
For those of you who are lazy to read but want the info anyways, here’s a video of my review:
Sugar is everywhere but in controlled amounts and portion, it’s fine.
Sugar is a form of carbohydrate, really simple carbohydrate, that is easily absorbed in our bodies. It also contains very little nutritional value, aside from carbohydrates and sugar, it literally has nothing else, comparatively to a fruit for example, a fruit would have vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Hence, the calories provided by sugar is also known as “empty calories”.
In the video, Vishen mentioned that 40% of what is in Milo is pure sugar, and he’s not wrong.
For every 100g of milo, there’s 40g of sugar.
So, it’s dangerous then? Hold on…..
While there’s 40% sugar in the product, we still have to consider the serving size and portion, the amount you’re actually recommended to consume, in this case it’s 30g diluted with water or milk.
That makes out to 12.2g of sugar from the milo itself, or roughly 2 teaspoons.
Now consider this, the typical Teh Tarik at your favorite Mamak joint has about 26g of sugar.
The qualitative side of sugar is certainly bad in excess for us, but what we need to put in consideration is also the quantity of which we consume.
WHO recommends that we should consume less than 10% or even better 5% of sugar
(Max: 5 – 10 teaspoons/day) in our total caloric intake.
So while milo does have sugar in the product, it’s not really the worst, think about it, traditional Kuihs, Candi, our obsession towards desserts. Those all have to a certain degree more sugar than 1 serving of milo.
The same case goes with honey stars, which was another product mentioned in the video, it’s 28% sugar, but 1 serving with milk only has 14.3 grams, have you ever seen someone eating putu mayam with heaps of brown sugar together with their favorite Teh Tarik?
Government efforts are real.
While I’m at it, Vishen also mentioned about the read sticker by the Ministry of Health also known as the Healthier Choice Logo being on some of these products with high sugar content.
Well the truth is, the ministry of health is genuinely trying to provide regulations to provide the people healthier food choice.
If you look at the criteria, milo and honey stars did nothing wrong, they did in fact fit into the ministry of health’s healthier choice logo’s criteria for the category of breakfast cereals for children, where in 100g of product, there should be less or equal, 3g of fat, 400 mg of sodium, 30g of sugar, more than 3g of fibre and 25% of whole grains.
This regulation certainly puts a front to promote the consumption of whole grains and more fiber.
Marketing is always trying to tie in what we want consciously or unconsciously to a product, ALWAYS.
It was also mentioned that Nestle lied to people that drinking milo makes you healthier as evidenced by it’s marketing of a taekwondo picture inferring that after drinking milo, you’d be able to perform better in sports.
Well the thing is this, it’s partially true, look into the science of sports nutrition, and you’ll easily realise that sugar containing drinks can enhance performance and recovery in the right amounts.
The glycemic index (GI) for milo is 55±3 (considered medium-low GI), if mixed with full fat milk, it goes lower to 35±2. (Low GI)
Drinks at that glycemic index have been shown in research to enhance an athlete’s performance
But here’s the important matter,
businesses will create products based on what they feel consumers would buy and be happy to consume, and are definitely going to market it in a way that it would be positively associated with the public.
Which company wouldn’t do that? If they released a super healthy product but no one is going to consume it, what’s the point? At least from a business aspect. So they compromised for this target audience by making it more palatable with sugar, not the best thing for you arguably but that’s what happened.
To another target audience in healthcare, they do provide great products for people with diabetes trying to control their blood sugar for example.
Research cost money, but funded data is still data.
Over the issue on funding research and buying over nutritionist, well that’s a catchy title but give it a read and you’ll realize the content is relatively neutral actually.
The thing is this, research costs money, nutritionist and dietitians only want to find solutions towards minimizing health problems.
The truth is, without any collaboration, our health state would be in far worst place, for example, it was through those efforts that regulation on food labels came into play in Malaysia in 2003.
Data is still data, funded or not, can prove to have valuable information, furthermore, the scientific community does not just take 1 or 2 articles and form a guideline solely based on that, they go through heap and heaps of stringent reviews and processes, for example, is so and so’s finding replicable by other authors somewhere else. I mean think about it, data from a funded research can seem to be skeptical at first, but if the same parameters are reproducible through other controlled forms of study on the matter, multiple times, by different scientist all over the globe, would then that data have some form of validity?
Now Nestle doesn’t pay me to say any of this, and frankly it doesn’t matter, what I’m trying to do is to give everyone some perspective.
- It’s fine to consume milo or honey stars, stick to the recommended servings and you’ll be fine. Is it the healthiest cereals or breakfast food out there? Perhaps not, but hey, they aren’t bad in relative terms to many of our traditional foods.
- Don’t glorify or vilify any nutrients, it’s all about context and quantity as well.
- Research is needed and until more funds are made available to the public, collaborations with food companies are needed, but the data is still data and can be used as a means of study anyways. To authenticate and validate the data, extreme scrutiny will be applied but more importantly, if the data can be replicated elsewhere, it’s definitely good.
So in the case of sugar, imagine a world where you have no desserts or sweet stuff, would you really want to live in that?