The white powdery petrol that fuels most of our days is the next substance to be hitting our headlines. It is the cocaine of our households and the woodworm to our diets. Whether it be the 11am Kit Kat, a habit never broken from the school playground, or the tub of Ben and Jerry’s to get you through a breakup, it’s irresistibleness breaks us at every shop checkout. Over time, sugar has industrialised our nation, been used as a weapon of war, energised our armies, and in 1791 its sales were boycotted in a protest to abolish slavery.
Without it we wouldn’t have Charlie and the Chocolate factory, but we would have a happier healthy Nation. Increased sugar consumption has a direct link to obesity, high blood pressure, liver disease, cholesterol, tooth decay and diabetes. This bad boy causes dull skin, fatigue, sleep deprivation, headaches, mood swings and is highly addictive. But, every good girl likes a bad boy once in a while.
We need sugar in our diets but only a fraction of what we are currently consuming. The World Health Organisation is quickly realising the devil of our diets. The recommended daily allowance currently stands at 70g for a man and 50g for a woman; drastically being reduced to a mere 6g. The hidden sugar from an average microwave meal, a 70’s revelation to free the housewife from the kitchen chains, could contain your whole daily allowance. And if you didn’t know it was there this deception can have serious consequences.
It is this hidden sugar that is the problem. We need energy to live, this energy is measured by calories; it is the wood to our fire. Over-consumption of any food, when the energy it provides is not burnt off, results in a conversion to fat, stored by the body for when we are lacking in energy – a pretty clever caveman tool! I state the obvious when I say: if you eat too much sugar, you are going to get fat.
Sugar is obviously not the sole problem. If you eat too much fat or carbohydrate, you will experience similar health problems. The thing with sugar is, it is hidden in almost all foods, most people are not even aware of the scary stuff lurking in all corners of their kitchen cupboards.
A glass of orange juice to kick start your five a day? Not only are you missing out on the fibre you get when eating an orange, you are guzzling down a whopping 22g of sugar in a 200ml portion. That is nearly four times the new recommended daily allowance. In one glass! Certain brands of fat-free fruit yoghurts are no better with 21g per portion (over three times the recommended daily allowance). And while a certain smoothie company has branded themselves as a healthy choice, a can of ‘full fat’ coke contains a third of the amount of sugar, which is equivalent to 3.5 Krispy Kreme Original Glazed Donuts – not so ‘innocent’ after all.
White rice, bread, ketchup, milk, sushi and dried fruit are some other unlikely culprits. Hidden by manufactures to increase shelf life and taste, the worst criminals are ready-made meals and low-fat foods. If you think a swap to low-fat is a healthier choice, think again. The lack of natural fat reduces flavour and so sugar or artificial sweetener is used as a substitute. It may not be in a language recognisable to you, but anything ending in –‘ose’ is a good key: dextrose, fructose, maltose and sucrose to name a few.
Is natural sugar a healthier substitute for your regular caster or granulated? To an extent yes. Brown sugar has not been bleached so effectively less chemical processing. Thanks to bees we have honey, full of antibacterial and antiviral properties (if you buy it raw). However, we tend to use more of it than normal white sugar even though it is sweeter and of a higher density. It has more calories and a similar carbohydrate structure. Maple syrup, in the same way as honey is unprocessed and has redeeming properties; but at the end of the day, our body treats all sugar in the same way. Whether it is a cube in your tea or agave on your porridge. It is not recommended to substitute table sugar with any other sugar, even if natural sugars may be slightly healthier.
All year round there are temptations. Living on a sunny little island, what could be a nicer way to spend an afternoon than licking a dripping Mr. Whippy on the beach. We cannot be held responsible for the sugar hidden in our food but taking precautions (along with applying your sunscreen) will pay off. There is no need to go cold turkey (although this is very low in sugar, fat and high in protein), just be aware of the little devil lurking where you least expect him.