I have been saying for decades now …
Well, I’ve been saying two things: firstly that foods like cakes and biscuits and desserts and drinks continue to get sweeter all the time, and secondly that manufacturers need to start giving us more choice in this.
Actually, I’ve been saying more than that, to as many people who’ll listen to me, and as often as the subject crops up. I’ve said that the insidious increase in sugar content of so many foods is to blame for more health problems than high fat content, that feeding a sweet tooth seems to make it sweeter, that sugar is addictive, that the food manufacturers are fiendishly clever because they know this and try very hard to hook us young with overly sweet breakfast cereals, desserts, yoghurts etc aimed directly at children, and also that I would not be unhappy to see a tax put on sugar. Nobody needs it in these quantities, and it’s positively dangerous for some of us.
I do have a sweet tooth, and it’s often my undoing when it comes to trying to keep my weight down, but I do wish I could buy a chilled coffee drink, for instance, with no damn sugar in it! When I drink coffee at home I never add sugar, so why would I want an iced coffee with about four teaspoons of sugar dissolved in it when I’m out? If you doubt how much sugar is in those things – and in ice lollies and ice creams – try letting one warm to room temperature and then taking a swig. You’ll be shocked at how sweet they really are. Fact: the more you cool things, the less you can taste the sugar.
Let’s think about the things which have sugar added – things which, if we made them at home, would usually contain none at all. Bread, for instance. It is not necessary to add sugar to bread. OK, some recipes call for it but many do not. Those that do add it as a kind of short-cut to ‘feed’ the yeast and get it started more quickly, and it’s actually a lot more healthy to give bread a long fermentation time, which uses the yeast more effectively and more thoroughly and results in an ‘old-fashioned’ loaf instead of the playdough-textured Chorleywood1 type.
Have you ever noticed that the biscuits and fruit pies and cakes you buy are so much sweeter, and yet somehow less satisfying, than those you make at home? They are full of sugar and other refined ingredients, including glucose-fructose sugar which fools your body into thinking that you’re still hungry and encourages you to overindulge2. Eat them quickly and you’ll feel slightly unwell because your poor body is trying to process the overload of fat and sugar. Homemade biscuits and cakes don’t do this – at least, not so quickly or so thoroughly: because there’s no glucose-fructose syrup, because you need to chew them more, and because they are simply more satisfying.
Processed meats are difficult to find sans sugar. Ham, pastrami, the so-called deli-meats, meat pies, meat patés, sausages and so on, go take a look at the ingredients lists if you don’t believe me. Mayonnaise3. Bottled sauces. Gravies. Even frozen chips. Why the hell would anyone think of putting sugar in chips?
Then there are fruit juices and fruit ‘drinks’, which are often nothing more than flavoured sugar water. I make a drink called ‘ACE’ at home, which I discovered in Italy. ‘ACE’ stands for (vitamins) A, C and E, and it’s easy and quick to make using bottled carrot juice, and chilled, unsweetened, orange and apple juices. The original recipe calls for a dash of lemon, but the apple and carrot juices will have this added already. You do not need sugar for this drink, and it’s simply a matter of getting the proportions as you like them, so just experiment. Our taste runs to around one third carrot juice, and then the proportions of apple and orange depend on which brands I buy, but usually just a tad more orange than apple. If you’re not used to such an intense, pure-fruit juice, try adding sparkling mineral water to taste – or even simply tap water… but please, no sugar!
Sugar is in all those things to ‘educate’ your tastebuds to keep coming back for more, and to make the food processing easier. Does it do us any favours at all? No.
So you can imagine how pleased I was to read this article, in which food experts are calling for a reduction in the amount of sugar allowed in processed foods. Three bloody cheers! Never mind vilifying obese people and telling us how we lack self-control, for fuck’s sake, how about beginning to point the finger at those really responsible for the increase in the population’s weight: the food industry?
I admit it. I have struggled with my weight all my adult life. I, along with all the rest of you who are unlucky enough to have succumbed to an addiction to sugar (and those who are genetically predisposed to put on weight4), have had to employ more self-restraint than most simply to avoid getting to the point where I can no longer walk due to damaging my joints with the extra avoirdupois. We, unique among addicts, cannot go cold turkey. We still have to eat to live, and must therefore suffer the torture of struggling with our addiction on a twice or three-times-daily basis. It’s a bit like trying to give up smoking while allowing yourself two puffs of a cigarette three times a day – but while smokers are now offered help from their doctors, obese people are still blamed for their lack of self-control. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we are the last remaining group of addicts who are punished for their problem.
It really is about time that the government stopped telling us it’s all our fault and withdrawing vital health services5, and began to help us by bringing in legislation to restore our food supplies to something which does not continually poison us and scupper our best intentions. We cannot all prepare all our own food from scratch, and that reminds me:
Who suffers most from being fed processed, pre-prepared food?
Those who cannot help themselves by preparing their own food, that’s who. Those in institutions of any kind: schools, nursing homes, respite homes, residential facilities for the elderly, prisons …
And hospitals, where we should be fed a diet conducive to regaining health, but far too often are not6.
<sup>1</sup> – See link: The shocking truth about bread
<sup>2</sup> – See links:
<sup>3</sup> – Whose ingredients, as all the purists will tell you, should be very simple: a good quality oil, plus egg.
<sup>4</sup> – See link: Genetic mutation causes obesity
<sup>5</sup> – See link: Lose weight, or your operation is cancelled
<sup>6</sup> – See link: Hospital food: what’s the prognosis?