Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Should we be quitting all sugar?

This column was first published in the Sunday Star-Times, Sunday 21st September. 

I have a piece of toast with Marmite most mornings as part of my breakfast, with my eggs. I enjoy the flavours together. But regular Marmite eaters like me have started to doubt ourselves lately, after talk of the spread’s sugar content. It comes in the wake of the (otherwise excellent) programme by Nigel Latta on sugar in our diets, broadcast a few weeks ago. In it, Latta highlighted the abundance of sugar in our food supply, and the potential harm this is doing to our health. He went through the supermarket showing how much sugar is in various foods, including obvious things like cereal and less obvious ones, like Marmite. I’ve had some correspondence from readers, alarmed at this, declaring they are clearing their cupboards of all the sugar and tossing out the Marmite along with anything else with sugar in it.

It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the added sugar in your diet. That’s because it’s often in processed foods, many of which are not ideal for our health. In these foods, sugar comes packaged up with other things that are not good for us, like saturated fat and salt. And some foods, like sweet fizzy drinks, are really just sugar delivery systems which none of us really need at all. Sugar can also lurk in foods where you wouldn’t expect it to be. Peanut butter, tomato sauce, bread, stir-fry sauces – they all contain sugar, sometimes at quite high levels.

The idea of ‘quitting sugar’ has had a lot of airtime in the past year or so, and there are certainly people who’ve made careers and presumably a lot of money out of this idea. I don’t have a problem with this – it’s a simple message that has resonated with a lot of people. I do have a problem with where some of the more extreme advice in this area might lead vulnerable people.

If cutting sugar from your diet means you replace the processed sugary foods with whole, fresh, healthy foods like vegetables and fruit (I don’t think fruit should be demonised for its sugar content), that is great. It can only be a good thing for your health. But if the desire to cut sugar leads to obsessive thinking – checking every label, being preoccupied with what is and isn’t ‘allowed’- then I question whether that is good, healthy or sustainable long term. One of the things that really breaks my heart is when (non-allergic) people talk of food in terms of what they can’t eat.

Also, don’t forget context. Yes, that jar of Marmite contains seven teaspoons of sugar. But no-one’s eating the whole jar in one sitting! There’s less than a fifth of a teaspoon of sugar in the smear on my toast. I can live with that, just like I can live with the delicious (small) piece of sweet slice I ate this morning for a colleague’s birthday. Part of enjoying life is finding a balance that works for you.  

1 comment:

Nicola said...

These things have interesting effects. After the show I had a client come in who was giving up marmite. Yet even though we'd discussed giving up juice due to her diabetes, she had bought the new Just Juice with 50% less sugar which has much much more sugar than marmite. You can see how people get so confused.