They say that a little of what you fancy does you good. But unfortunately all evidence points to the fact that sugar is damaging our health in a myriad of ways we are only beginning to understand.
Make no mistake about it, sugar is addictive and is set to be the ‘New Tobacco’ as it becomes abundantly clear that it’s an ingredient we absolutely don't need: empty calories that pile on the pounds without nourishing us in any way.
Type 2 diabetes and obesity are increasing dramatically around the world but excess sugar is also linked to cancer, heart disease, mood disorders and of course tooth decay.
International doctors, scientists and obesity experts are joining forces to put pressure on governments to force food and drink manufacturers to cut hidden sugar in processed foods. According to the head of the Action on Sugar group, Professor Graham MacGregor - who also spearheaded the hugely successful campaign on salt reduction:
“Provided the sugar reductions are done slowly, people won't notice.”
They have calculated that reducing sugar in processed foods by between 20 and 30% over the next 3 to 5 years could remove 100 calories a day from diets, enough to reverse the obesity epidemic.
But this doesn't mean it'll be easy, says Yoni Freedhoff from the University of Ottowa, Canada, another advisor to the group:
"Not only has added sugar found its way into virtually everything we eat, but worse still, the use of sugar as a means to pacify, entertain and reward children has become normalised to the point that questioning our current sugary status quo often inspires anger and outrage."
Deep down, we’ve all known this was coming.
People are aware that fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes and biccies are loaded with sugar, but they are often amazed to discover that sugar can also be in many types of bread, soups, sauces…
So what to do?
Over the years we’ve noticed many items getting progressively sweeter. In fact, I’m convinced that sugar itself has become more intensely sweet, since we are now using imported sugar now that our domestic sugar beet industry is gone. Can this be my imagination? I’m awaiting the results of a scientific analysis. In the meantime we have been systematically reducing sugar in many of our recipes often without a murmur of complaint.
Sugar is unquestionably addictive, so cutting sugar out of our diet altogether is a ‘big ask.’ It can certainly be done but one may have to endure a couple of weeks of ‘cold turkey’ then apparently the craving dissipates. However with a certain resolve it should be possible to cut out sweet fizzy drinks, sugar in tea and coffee, sweetened yoghurt and soups. There are still some supermarkets that have aisles of tempting sweets and bars as one queues for the till, perhaps it’s time for Mammies of the world to unite and demand support to help solve this global problem of obesity.
So what are the alternatives?
- Bananas are naturally sweet and can enable you to reduce or eliminate sugar in banana bread, muffins or buns.
- Think about eliminating breakfast cereals from your shopping list and replace with porridge, a brilliant food which also includes fibre.
- Honey can be substituted for sugar or add a sprinkling of plump raisins or sultanas.
- Several of my grandchildren love peanut butter on their porridge, sounds very odd but it’s been their winter breakfast of choice for many years and keeps them sated until lunch time.
- Completely eliminate sugar sweetened drinks. Substitute real apple juice with sparkling water or just water.
- Dried fruit and nuts or blueberries are good for snacks - but why are we snacking all the time?
- A bar of dark chocolate has less sugar but at least has the benefit of antioxidants.
At the Ballymaloe Cookery School we are doing our bit to address the issue and in June we held our first Sugar Free and Fabulous course, for those looking to cut back, or even cut out sugar from their lives. It was well attended and so we look forward to running another in 2015 to share natural ways to enjoy sweetness without the use of artificial sugar substitutes.