Sugar – the New Demon

Jan 21, 2014 by

Two years ago I had a conversation with a medical member of my family about fat. We argued about what was the real cause of obesity in this country. He was still of the opinion that all fat should be avoided, particularly saturated fat. I told him there was new thinking on fat and that there was a very large study published which disproved the link between the amount of fat in the diet and heart disease. This study actually showed that countries such as Switzerland and France who had the largest intake of saturated fat and had the highest cholesterol levels had the lowest level of heart disease. The USA which had the lowest saturated fat intake and the lowest cholesterol levels actually had the highest amount of heart disease.

So what was going on? Why, when fat had been demonised for so long had heart disease, obesity and diabetes been steadily on the increase since the 1970s? It all began with Nixon. Rather than regurgitate the story, I have provided a link here which explains it better.

When fat is removed from a food it becomes tasteless and so sugar, salt and other enhancers need to be added to improve the flavour. Fat was so demonised that consumers developed an abhorrence of it. Sales of low fat, reduced fat and even zero fat products soared. Manufacturers realised they were onto a winner and could increase sales by stating even a naturally low fat food was low fat. Stating the bleedin’ obvious so to speak.

Now consumers were consuming all this “hidden sugar” and were getting fatter and fatter and diabetic (interesting link here showing “The International Diabetes Federation, for example, which aims to combat diabetes, is a commercial partner of Novo Nordisk, the world’s biggest producer of insulin, and the food-processing giant, Nestle.”) Consumers were cooking less and buying more and more processed foods. It was no coincidence that the mega food manufacturers were also getting richer and richer.

But now having demonised fat to the extent that the average person actually shudders at the mere mention of it, we are now in danger of demonising sugar.  While, who we should be demonising are the food manufacturers.

When you cook at home with sugar, you are in control. You know exactly how many grammes you have added. With processed food you have no idea and manufacturers have got very cute as to how they label sugar including, rice syrup, or even “organic dehydrated cane juice”, invert sugar, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin. The list goes on and on so much so that I as a food scientist am sometimes conned! So what hope does the average consumer have?

Intrinsically there is nothing wrong with sugar. It is the energy building block of life. All food nutrients are ultimately broken down to a basic sugar to provide fuel for every cell in the body. The less refined the sugar is the better it is for you. Your body has evolved to recognise and be able to digest and use sugar in it’s natural forms. It tends to get a bit confused by modern laboratory refined equivalents.

The secret is to stop making cynical food processing manufacturers richer and as much as is practical and possible to avoid including processed foods in the diet. Moderation is the key.

We really are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water yet again. Instead let the dregs of tens of thousand baths drain down on cynical food manufacturers and may the fleas of a thousand camels infest their shareholders and may their arms be too short to scratch them.

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