At last. The Experts have caught up with me!


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:

Effects of fructose on brain may promote overeating

Fructose effect on brain may explain link to obesity

Sweet poison: why sugar is ruining our health

Sugar, not fat, exposed as deadly villain in obesity epidemic

<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?






The Nutrition Dilemma


Vogel’s sliced bread – soya and linseed, as you see.   And very nice it is, too, even though OH is very rude about it and says it looks and feels like a brick. 

Anyway, one day when I opened up a new bag, something was Not Right and I felt quite cheated.  Not simply because my new loaf was a bit short, but because here I am trying to keep track of my food intake, and a slice is no longer a slice, those from the new loaf being half the size of the old one, so I can’t look at the table on the back and say (for instance) ‘Aha! This slice contains .34g of sodium!’

Nutritionists are always saying, are they not, that you need 15mg of this trace element and 350mg of that one, plus at least 320mg magnesium and 30 units of vitamin E, and less than 2,000mg of sodium and so on?  And we all need our ‘five-a-day’ of fruit and veg to stay healthy.

At least the five-a-day should be easy, right?



These two stalks of broccoli came from the same pre-trimmed packet, bought from my favourite supermarket a while back.  Waitrose, along with the rest, label the packets with useful information to help you choose wisely1.

In this case, the useful information is that seven ‘spears’ will provide me with one of my five-a-day.


Oh really?  Which size ‘spears’ would that be – the big ones, or the little ones?  Or should we pick at random and try to find an average?  Not to mention that the NHS suggests that:

Two broccoli spears … count as one portion.”

It all seems very confused, but let’s try to work this out:  say I eat a banana with my cereal for breakfast, an apple mid-morning, and drink a glass of fruit juice with my lunch.   That’s dealt with the fruit.

I might have tomato soup for lunch, but the experts say that our five-a-day should be made up of two fruit portions and three veg, and tomatoes are a fruit2.  Alrighty, then – a salad. How about a green salad?  I’m reading that a ‘cereal bowl’ sized portion of lettuce is one of my five-a-day.  What size bowl would that be, then, being as there is no such standard size as ‘cereal bowl’? And would that be ten shredded lettuce leaves, or the two or three whole leaves which would also fill that same bowl?

Moving along, I guess I’m supposed to nibble on raw veg during the afternoon, because I’ve used up my fruit allowance for the day so dried apricots etc are out.  Dinner is easier, because I love all kinds of cooked vegetables except fennel.  Potatoes don’t count as a vegetable, but green beans, broccoli (Ha!), carrots, asparagus, peas, they’re all good.

Meanwhile, I’m suppose to keep my dairy intake up (to prevent osteoporosis and get enough of certain vitamins inside me), eat enough protein for the old growth & repair thing, and eat nuts and seeds for their trace elements, minerals and vitamins content – oh, and don’t forget the dark chocolate which apparently is incredibly good for us, but can’t count as one of our five a day either, even though it comes from a tree and is a part of a fruit.  Then it’s recommended that for a good night’s sleep we should eat lots of foods containing tryptophan, and eat wholegrain cereals for energy and to help avoid type 2 diabetes, and plenty of good fats which are essential for cell health and also the cardiovascular system.  And so on.

Don’t get me wrong: I firmly believe that eating a good diet will lead to a healthier me, even though I’m only sporadically good at following one.  I just don’t see the numbers adding up, here.

I have tried. I kept track of my food on Spark People3, and found it impossible, while sticking to 2000 calorie a day, to ever reach the targets on their ‘RDAs’ chart, especially while eating my ‘five a day’ at the same time.  So I asked a nutritionist.

I said ‘How do I balance my diet so that I’m eating enough of all the different food groups to get all the vitamins, minerals and trace elements I need, every day, without ballooning to the size of a number 73 bus?’ 

Well, OK, I didn’t put it quite like that, not wanting to come across as belligerent, but that, in essence, was my question.

And she said ‘Um. I’m not here to answer that type of question’, which I’m afraid I took to mean ‘I don’t have a clue’.

I’m beginning to suspect that the only way is to simply cut down on the bad stuff and eat what the hell I like.

1 … Or maybe just to help themselves sell more fruit and veg. It could be either.

2 Although the NHS have made the arbitrary decision that tomatoes are in fact vegetables. And so is cucumber, which is also a fruit. Not to mention aubergines, peppers and mushrooms. And if you want to be picky, so are beans – unless you shell them, in which case they’re seeds.

3 A very useful site for tracking your nutrition.