When I was 13 years of age, I started a summer job in a café in West Wales. It was there that Summer, four words were said to me which were to have a profound effect on my life. 'Well done for refusing.' The discussion centred on smoking a ciggy. After I turned down the offer of a 'smoke' from one of the older women, another one, who I now refer to as 'My Ciggy Watchdog', looked at me, smiled and uttered those words. These few words, from a friend who could see the potential danger of smoking, would in time become my fortitude and my health, because mercifully they stopped me from all temptation to puff the guts out of a cigarette when I was stressed, or under peer pressure. I say mercifully because I could have been a victim like so many who died many years before their time of smoke related disease, including my much loved and respected dad.
I relate this story simply to connect the emotional effects cigarettes had in my life with sugar which a group of scientists together recently labelled the modern toxic substance and akin to smoking a ciggy. However, munching on a bar of chocolate as a reward for a busy day or enjoying a homemade apple pie was always a guiltless pleasure for most of us until recently. Today refined sugar, like sucrose and corn syrup, have made us a nation of sugar addicts with consequences akin to smoking.
And the problem with too much sugar?
When sugar calories are absorbed into our bloodstream, they provide us with energy. If we do not use the energy, we get fat and according to studies, are put in potential danger of Diabetes II and heart disease. According to Robert Lustig, professor of paediatric endocrinology at University of California, San Francisco, author of Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar, calories from added sugar as in fizzy drinks, table sugar and sugar added to processed foods is alarmingly 11 times more potent at causing diabetes than general calories.
Check out this table which compares a list of regularly consumed food products which contain hidden sugar. Seeing Heinz Tomato Soup, which contains 14.6g (4 tsp sugar) per portion, I could help but think about my easy peasy Sian's Plan homemade Tomato and Chickpea Soup Recipe which only contains 1.8g (0.25 teaspoons) per portion.
Why are consuming too much sugar
There are lots of reasons why increased sugar intake has sneaked into our lives. Any regular readers will know that being aware is half the battle:
- The Bliss Point
Portions of sugar products have become larger over the years; just compare muffins purchased from a coffee bar which can weigh up to 140 grams to a fairy cake made at home which weighs approximately 40 grams. And don't even get me started on the sugar laden, enticing, voluminous cupcake toppings.
Confectionery such as chocolate bars are now available in King Size, while smaller bars are available in 'multi buy' packs, encouraging us to eat even more.
The "bliss point" is the precise amount of sugar assured to "send consumers over the moon".
According to Salt, Sugar, Fat author Michael Moss, the food industry knows exactly what they were doing by discovering and manipulating our taste buds, craving more sugar, which in turn makes even more money for the corporate giants.
To lengthen the shelf life of processed foods and to increase profits, sugar has also found itself in almost every manufactured food found in the supermarket, from bread to pizzas and sauces, to freshly prepared salad bar ingredients and from fruit juices to breakfast cereals and yoghurts to cheeses.
The thing is, treats are now something of the past. Soft/fizzy drinks and confectionary are no longer an occasional treat - they are an everyday fact.
We've seen why sugar isn't great for us and why we're ingesting so much more than before. Next week I'll look into ways to cut down your sugar intake. Let 2014 do it for you!