An attack on sugar feels like an attack on sugar users, and so on most of us. There is sugar in the cookies and sweets we indulge in, in the chocolates we give away, the cakes we treat people to, the drinks with which we toast to good health, the ice-cream to cool off on hot summer days. Basically, sugar is ‘sociable’. And so you must think that someone like me who is against it, must be a very sad kind of person.
For the love of sweets
Let me put things straight first: I write about sugar out of love for sweets! The problem is that nowadays we eat sugar routinely instead of intensely enjoying treats on special occasions the way our grandparents used to. We quench our thirst with soft drinks, juices and smoothies. We satisfy our hunger with snacks and fast-food. Biscuits and white bread are the basis of many breakfasts and lunches. Without even realizing it, the hidden sugars found in ready-to-eat meals, pastries and sauces we consume add up very quickly.
Only when we stop eating without giving what we eat some thought, can we really get to enjoy sugar again. All it takes is conscious eating and eating less.
Public enemy no. 1
I focus on sugar not because it is the sole cause of our health problems. But to put an end to the ‘protection’ sugar has enjoyed for many years.
Halfway through the last century, fat, cholesterol and salt were declared enemies. Initially, because they caused cardiovascular diseases, but also because, as the obesity epidemic spread, the fat in our food became synonymous with the fat on our hips.
That too much sugar is also stored as fat in our bodies, was less well understood. And we are only just now beginning to realise that too much sugar also causes sicknesses.
It is frustrating that science does not give a clear message, and even more frustrating are the often contradictory messages – scientific or not – that reach us through various channels and that confuse. But what is clear is that we keep eating sugar and refined carbohydrates because they do not satiate. They just give a pleasant and rewarding feeling. Many therefore eat too many of these sugars, and that’s why we get bigger. Sugars also play a role in the global rise of chronic illnesses like diabetes. And many specialists now link excessive consumption of sugar with cardiovascular diseases and even cancer.
Manufacturers promote their products with catchy slogans and flashy packaging. When these products are also sold with all sorts of health claims, one must expose them. Often we are deceived by words such as “natural”, “energy”, “fruit”, “vitamins”, “antioxidants”, “light”, “wholegrain” and “fibres” as we purchase products that are full of fast sugars. Large portions are “for sharing” and everything is “part of a balanced diet”.
Who still gets too big, exercises insufficiently, is the explanation. But to what extent is it our fault if we get overwhelmed by, let’s face it, non-transparent information?
The whole world is experimenting with measures to tackle obesity, ranging from taxes on soft drinks, sugar and fats, the systematic measurement of waist circumference (no joke, they do it in Japan), colour-coded packaging (red, orange and green), prohibiting soda vending machines in schools and offering free healthy meals to pupils.
Making the change
For now it’s really going to be up to us to make changes though. And what I’ve always found good advice: eat real, fresh food. Eat only what your grandmother would recognize as food. Vegetables and fruit. Meals that have to be prepared. Foods that are different each season.
Unfortunately, the kind of food children (and adults!) might not always like. But at least you’ll know what you eat. The chances that you use as much sugar as the food industry does, are small. And suddenly you’ll also be free of trans fats and incomprehensible ingredients. You might end up in the kitchen a bit longer, but it’ll be worth every minute.