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Sugar, the new dietary demon

Sugar is big news! Seemingly never out of the headlines, a UK sugar tax on soft drinks is expected to be introduced in 2018 in an attempt to combat tooth decay and obesity, particularly in children.

This comes against the backdrop of an unprecedented rise in obesity and a type 2 diabetes “epidemic” worldwide.

Whilst sugar has replaced saturated fat as the “new” dietary demon, it had in fact already been “outed” way back in 1972 by Professor John Yudkin in his book “Pure, White and Deadly”. His warnings were however, largely ignored as, following advice issued by the UK government in the early ‘80s, low-fat eating rather than low-sugar eating became a national obsession.

Since the 1980’s however, the number of Briton’s classed as obese has more than trebled and the place of sugar in the diet is being re-evaluated. The World Health Organisation has stated that nutritionally, “free sugars” are not needed in the diet. "Free sugars” include glucose, fructose, sucrose or table sugar added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. The WHO advises that free sugars, if consumed, should be kept below 10% of total energy needs. For an adult of average body mass that equates to about 25mg or six teaspoons of sugar a day.

The way forward

Unlike “free sugars”, the natural sugar found in foods such as fresh whole fruits and vegetables and wholegrains is released more slowly into the blood stream and so does not cause extreme blood sugar spikes. These natural wholefoods should be combined with good quality protein found in fish, chicken, beans, tofu, natural yoghurt, nuts and seeds, to keep blood sugar balanced and avoid cravings.

“Free” sugars are not only found in cakes, biscuits, chocolate and refined cereals - beware of hidden sugar in seemingly inoffensive foods such as tomato ketchup, low-fat yoghurts and baked beans! Many low-fat products have added sugar to improve the taste, whilst the addition of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to sweeten soft drinks and processed foods is considered to be a major contributory factor to “the obesity epidemic”.

So, eat the right foods in the right amounts and enjoy regular physical exercise to stay healthy and avoid becoming one of the 5 million people in the UK projected to develop diabetes by 2025!