I was admittedly told this once by a personal-trainer-raw- food-vegan friend and I pooh-poohed it (you can understand why). Sugar? The thing that gives me energy and sits so nicely in many forms (cake, biscuits, chocolate) alongside a caffeinated beverage while I struggle with a writing deadline? A drug? Noooo.
I’m beginning to think he was right however. Why? Because 1) just take a look at most breakfast cereals and tell me they’re not a form of institutionalised sugar pushing 2) I work in a shared office which is littered with the paraphernalia of sugar consumption (muffins, biscuits, supermarket tray cakes) 3) we have an obesity epidemic, the cause of which is not lard (I wish) 4) it makes financial sense – get people hooked and you can sell sell sell (call me a left-wing cynic).
So what truth is there in all of the above hearsay? Dr Robert Lustig, author of ‘Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar’ who recently toured the UK, likens the addictive and toxic nature of sugar to heroine and cocaine: “We need to wean ourselves off. We need to de-sweeten our lives. We need to make sugar a treat, not a diet staple.” Hyperbole? Go as far back as 1976 to a laboratory experiment which demonstrated that rodents could get hooked on sugar (namely Kellogg’s Froot Loops) and decide for yourself. The rats became obese after gorging on sweet foods after only a matter of weeks. Depriving them of sugary food led to withdrawal symptoms such as chattering teeth and even the administration of an electric shock was not enough to deter them from a sugar fix.
So do the rats matter? They are rodents after all. What does matter to me is the simple fact that a lot of research into sugar and the effects of it on the human body is sponsored by companies such as Coca-Cola, Kraft and Nestlé, just as tobacco companies used to fund research into cigarettes. While it’s easy to make the leap between a cancer stick and death however, it’s less easy to convince the great British public that the likes of Fizzicles, Gold Bears and Farmyard Friends are the Candyman’s crack.
Call it scaremongering but the real fear according to author of Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, Michael Moss, is that children’s sense of taste is being biologically altered by the amount of sugar they consume and therefore expect, in their diet. The ‘bliss point’ as it’s known in the industry – when food is at its most enjoyable – is being fundamentally altered by making food sweeter.
According to research, food aimed at children contains a lot more sugar too. One scientist from the Monell Chemical Senses Centre in the US explained that sugar is an analgesic that will reduce crying in a newborn baby. Couple that with the idea that we get excited about sugar as it represents a high energy food which humans have never had before in such abundance and our addiction to the sweet stuff can be explained.
What can’t be explained is the lack of action from governing bodies. And don’t expect it either. There is too much financial gain to be had from peddling the angel dust that is practically breast-fed to our children. An average American consumes 22 teaspons of it a day and according to Lustig, this needs to be cut by roughly two-thirds. It’s about time we started to listen.
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