THE BLOG

Sugar, Scapegoat or Villain?

20/01/2014 14:48 GMT | Updated 22/03/2014 09:59 GMT

When was the last time you consumed food or drink containing added sugar? Last week, yesterday, today or maybe you are knocking back a caramel Frappuccino containing at least nine teaspoons of sugar as you read this.

Sugar is the latest scapegoat in our fight against obesity. Why? Because we like to find external factors to blame rather than our inability to exert self restraint or improve our eating habits. Sugar inhibits the appetite control mechanisms in the brain which normally stop us eating when we feel full, so if we are to look for a cause, it could be said to fit the bill.

You may find it hard to swallow a tablespoon of neat sugar, but mix it with fat and down the hatch it goes. The same goes for fat. I doubt whether you attack the butter packet or pour yourself a spoon of oil when you go to the kitchen for a nibble, but combine it with flour or sugar, apply heat and hey presto what transpires is some delicious pastry or mouth watering fudge that you can't get enough of.

Posh sugar or cheap sugar it makes no difference. If you are overly fond of sugary foods whatever their provenance you very likely have a problem with your weight. It is so addictive that sugar is hidden in savoury foods to increase sales.

Sucrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, honey or agave syrup, they are all types of sugar. They make a large contribution to your energy intake yet provide no nutrition. Our obesity epidemic correlates closely with the rise in consumption of soft drinks and fruit juices. This is because sugar in liquid form is not as filling as solid sugar, so we tend not to compensate for our sweetened drink by eating less later on.

Legislating against sugar? I can't see it happening anytime soon. What may work for nicotine can't work for sugar as it is so ubiquitous and often difficult to spot. Are sugary snacks to be banned from public places, leading to sugarholics snaffling their chocolate bars in dingy corners with the hardened smokers? You cannot un-invent sugar, neither can you un-invent guns or alcohol. At its most extreme, legislation would mean the virtual dismantling of the all-powerful food industry and the end of the type of supermarkets that service the needs of a public habituated to convenience foods.

Do you remember when young men could still see their ribs and young women with bulging stomachs were pregnant? Long gone are the days when women went shopping daily for fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and fish and slaved over a hot stove preparing nourishing meals which invariably included a stodgy home-made pudding. Now most women work and either find cooking from scratch too much of a chore and survive on takeaways or regard the real food eaten by their grandparents too bland for their jaded palates.

As with cigarettes, the best way to break your sugar dependency is to go cold turkey. Or maybe you are the exception that proves the rule and can stop after half a small bag of Maltesers, leaving them for the next day. In my diet book Can I Have Chips? I explain how to replace sugary processed foods with less fattening wholefoods, and why your mental state can make you susceptible to sugar addiction. If you feel bad you are more likely to want to fill yourself with rubbish and we all know how that ends.

Don't feel tempted to replace sugar sweetened drinks with diet drinks. They perpetuate your taste for concentrated sugars when you are trying to lose the desire for so much sweetness. Start drinking water (that's the stuff that comes free out of the tap), not only will you break the grip of your sweet tooth but you lose some of your excess weight in the process.

At the end of the day the buck stops with the consumer. Refuse to buy processed foods and fizzy drinks, and they cease to exist. Is that likely to happen? Not in the near future, sugar has always been and will always be a cheap and socially acceptable way of making you feel better without the social stigma associated with drug taking.

So what does this mean for the overfed and oversized? They are likely to die prematurely. This will be welcomed by the government as it will have a smaller elderly population to care for, thus decreasing the pension deficit.