…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World
[The following is about my vague understanding of sugar and other things, don’t take anything as gospel, and feel free to point out where I’m wrong!]
It seems pretty normal to consume too much sugar in our early years. I’m sure for me it was two-and-a-bit teaspoons in cups of tea and coffee back in my late teens, and a sprinkling on my breakfast cereal; my brother is still consuming three-and-a-bit in his cups of tea. Then I cut back, and now, in my mid 30s, depending on the tea or coffee I’m drinking it varies from none, to “a hint”, to usually no more than one. Often I’m given a drink, like when I’m doing work for a client, for which I don’t know what brand, blend, or how it’s made, so these days I generally ask for one sugar (which confuses some clients who have known me from my two-spoon days!)
My sugar preference varies depending on the tea or coffee, for which I have a small variety; two types of black tea – one loose leaf for which I add a bit of ginger and I like without sugar, and one quick and easy box of teabags, which, while being the same brand taste not as mellow, and I add that hint or more. For coffee I have instant, and beans (some decaf and some regular) to be used in my fancy (it was second hand off ebay) espresso machine and with this comes a huge variety to choose from and the ability to make my own blend; like tea there are lots of blends available off the shelf and if you have a sweet tooth but are keen to maintain a low sugar intake, then you can select a variety that is described as sweet or smooth; like wine, it’s often in the description. Also, I find, which milk you use affects the sweetness; the creaminess of full fat negates the need for extra sugar. Which is worse, that extra percentage of fat or that extra teaspoon of sugar? You decide… or read on.
To sweeten my cereal I usually add sultanas or banana to my porridge instead of the white stuff, although some mornings a sprinkling of brown sugar to the pan is hard to avoid; I’m not sure if brown sugar is less harmful than white, like, wholemeal/brown bread or rice is said to be healthier than white.
The taste of sugar is something we get accustomed to. It’s similar to salt in this regard, and I rarely salt my food. When you cut back, when something is sugared (or salted) you notice it more. This becomes a problem when the things we buy come ready “flavoured”. These things are flavoured to the preferences of those who taste test them, to satisfy the masses (who I worry are the unhealthy bunch!), and I now wonder who these taste testers are; are they younger folk who must be accustomed to lashings of sugar? A problem I can imagine is that if you’re taste-testing a few things with a range of added sweetness, you’ll probably “prefer” one that’s sweetened, especially if you don’t ponder the un-sweetened one first and for long enough. There is something about sugar that makes the brain decide something is nice; while at the same time potentially leading us down a path towards diabetes and obesity; I’m pretty sure it has effects on emotional well-being too.
I don’t know anyone that sugars the food on their plate, strawberries are perhaps my only exception here, yet a surprising amount of food comes ready sweetened. Why? The answer to this must be two-fold: 1) because those taste-testers decided it needed sweetening, and/or 2) to act as a preservative. Or, in the case of bread, it can help the yeast to make it rise.
This is all frustrating when we’re trying to cut down on how much (bad) sugar we consume, and I even hear health adverts on the radio encouraging us to “swap” our sugar for something healthy (I actually find those adverts annoying; they sound belittling). When we’re trying to be mindful of what food we consume, or perhaps we have a health issue, we’ll scrutinise those food labels.
I’ve been looking at some of the canned foods I keep in stock and I see from the labels that sugar is often added to lots of things; it’s added to baked beans (which are in tomato juice) and even mushy peas.
The added frustration is that each of these cans are labelled as being part of our “five a day”, and we are told that it doesn’t matter if we choose fresh, frozen, or canned; “it all counts” – I don’t believe this to be true. It is nonsense to believe that some mass-produced fruit or vegetable that is grown in poor nutrient-defficient ground, beaten into submission, separated into the shrapnel and slapped in a can is going to contain the same quality and variety of nutrients as something lovingly grown to the best it can be and given all the assistance it needs with minimal harm inflicted on it. Either way, to then add sugar will counteract the healthiness, especially as far as Vitamin C is concerned.
I have learned recently of how sugar works against Vitamin C in the digestion process. This is in addition to how fat and sugar work together in the worst possible way.
The thing with fats and sugars though is that there are good and bad varieties. Refined sugars that are added to stuff is bad but food labels don’t necessarily differentiate between this and the natural sugars of say, a tomato; for this we have to look at the list of ingredients; if sugar is listed there then it has been added, yet it might not be added but the nutrition list might show something is high in sugar, and we might wrongly assume this is bad; I recently watched a Youtube video of someone making this very mistake while they were trying to illustrate how much sugar they were consuming in a typical day by taking this sugar nutrient value and illustrating it with a glass of refined sugar, even for the sugar that was from fruit; the sad thing was they were doing this to try and make their already healthy and mindful diet more healthy, but they would have had to reduce their fruit intake to get their sugar intake down.
It’s all well and good telling us we should not consume more than X-grams or X-teaspoons of sugar each day, but this doesn’t seem so helpful. We’re also told we should eat five or more portions of fruit a day, and in fact this has been deemed a minimum in recent years (something I plan to talk about in a future topic). The problem then arises that because fruit contains sugars, when you bundle them (wrongly I believe) all under the same heading you can quickly run into your daily limit of both.
One teaspoon of sugar weighs 4.2 grams. A tablespoon of sugar weighs around double that. It is recommended that people do not consume more than 25 grams, or about 6 teaspoons, of sugar a day. – www.reference.com
Looking at my canned food, a portion of baked beans or chopped tomatoes each contain a teaspoon of sugar, but the tomatoes have none added, therefore this is all natural and “unrefined”. Of course some might think that if they avoid that portion they can then have that extra teaspoon of the white stuff in their cup of tea. According to Google there are 19g of sugar in one medium-sized apple so you can perhaps immediately see the problem.
Some producers have cottoned on to the fact that natural sugar levels can look bad and where they can they will label something as having “no added sugar”.
Always read the label.
If “sugar” is in the list of ingredients then this is bad (they’re listed in order of predominance too), so the cake that I’ve been eating this week has sugar as the primary ingredient!
And… apparently sugar is more addictive than cocaine.