We can't choose to stop eating sugar
Amy Leech - 13 January 2014
I've tried and failed to stop eating sugar on and off for years, so I watched news that health experts have turned their attention to reducing the amount of added-sugar we eat with interest.
The launch of the Action on Sugar campaign last week had everybody up in arms. The public health community cheered from the side lines. The food industry pointed fingers, rallying in defence of their very responsible labelling. Some people were angry, how dare these doctors tell me how to take my tea?
We don't like being told what to do. We're happy, and are led, to think that the food we eat is our responsibility, our choice. This simply isn't true. Our decisions are made for us before we make them. The majority of us rarely choose things that aren't made easily available to us and find it hard to avoid those that are - particularly if they are cheap and tasty!
The truth is we don't have the freedom to choose an added-sugar-free diet, the stuff is unavoidable. Forget fizzy drinks - yoghurts, salad dressings, dips, cereals, bread, sushi, sauces, baked beans and crisps all have unnecessary amounts of added-sugar them. Of course they do, we like sweet things; it keeps us coming back for more.
Believe me, I'm not about to give up the occasional chocolate brownie for love or money, but the odd delicious treat isn't the problem.
The problem is the terrifying rise in diet-related deaths, disease and ill-health plaguing our population. The problem is that our daily diet of sweet treats, on top of sweetened savouries, on top of naturally occurring sugars in things like fruit and veg means we are eating and drinking too much sugar. Thankfully this is a trend we can choose to reverse, but only if the routine consumption of food and ingredients that are bad for us become genuinely avoidable and unacceptable.
Action on sugar is timely and much needed campaign which has rightly turned our attention to the need to cut the amount of added-sugar in food, and the role and responsibility of manufacturers and retailers who sell food for profit and decide what we are free to choose from.
But, if health experts are to be taken seriously by the food industry they aim to influence, they'll need to lead by example and get their own house in order. I look forward to the day when the foyers of hospitals and waiting rooms don't normalise food that would make Hansel and Gretel feel at home, and when training is introduced for all doctors in the complexities and importance of a good diet as the foundation and first principle of good health and the prevention of disease, to equip them to ask the right questions of patients and give them the best possible advice.
It's going to take more than sugar-free breadcrumbs to get us out of the woods, but Action on Sugar is a welcome leap in the right direction.
Amy is Senior Policy Officer at the Soil Association.