Thursday, 21 January 2016

Waging a sweet war, for health's sake

Some like it in its brilliant-white crystal form, taken with a spoon. Others prefer it less refined, in its 'purer' state. While more, perhaps the majority in the world, prefer to ingest it, refined, into the bloodstream via a straw.

Kellogg's Frosties: a bowlful of sugar to kick-start your day ...
'A grrreat source of sugar ...'
It's a global addiction that has been going on largely unchecked for centuries. Yet it appears that individuals and governments alike are finally realising the error of their ways, initiating a fightback against this potentially damaging substance that has been marketed with a smile whilst being fed to us in huge doses.

Yes, the war on sugar appears to be entering a new, potentially pulverising phase. Indeed, some experts in the field are comparing today's 'battle against the sugar bowl' with last century's brave stand against nicotine — that is to say taking on the powerful tobacco industry, a fight that continues across the globe.

Of course inhaling cigarette smoke isn't an essential part of living, so preventing people from engaging in such a practice in the first place, or at least limiting the frequency, is the best form of attack.

However, we all have to eat and drink to survive. This is where the war on sugar gets tricky. For one, sugar, in the general sense, is found in all fruit and vegetables we consume, an important energy source helping to keep our bodies active and alive. As for any chemical in the body, it's a case of getting the balance right. With sugar, doing just that has become nigh on impossible for many these days.

The problem is the 'packaged' diet. That is to say, not preparing what you consume from its crudest form. If you're cooking vegetables or eating fruit from scratch, you control the additional flavours to make them that bit tastier. The same goes for cereals such as oats and wheat. Yet, in the world of 'just add milk' breakfast cereals as well as prepared fruit products like smoothies and even ready-made meals, there tends to be uncalled for amounts of additional sugar.

'And whaddya know?!' Sugar has been proven to have addictive properties, so if food/beverage companies pump enough of it into their products, they're on to a winner. It isn't for nothing Kellogg's Frosties' Tony the Tiger says 'They're grrreat'. Great for business perhaps, not for your health though.

A nice coffee with milk, leaving the sugar to one side, in La Perseverancia, Bogotá, Colombia.
Best to leave the sugar to one side ...
Then you have the soft-drink industry — arguably the worst of the lot for 'sugar crimes'. A recent study from Massachusetts-based Tufts University found that one in every 100 deaths from obesity-related diseases is caused by sugar-sweetened drinks. In other words, 184,000 deaths across the globe every year have now been linked to this type of beverage.

The research found that this is a particular problem in low- and middle-income countries, such as here in Colombia and in Mexico. Venezuela didn't feature in the report, but having just visited there, it appears they have a strong love affair with the sugar-laden refrescante. A significant reason, maybe, for the, um, huge obesity problem the country seems to have.

Another angle to all of this is the sugar-fat mix. Studies suggest that when you get this combination in food, as you do in many processed products, especially in the confectionery industry, the body has a hard time figuring out when it's eaten enough. One explanation, then, as to why people gorge out on chocolate and the like.

The cliche advice for such things is 'everything in moderation'. That holds for sugar, too. As stated, it's a good energy source for our bodies. The snag is the 'moderation' part. Unnecessary amounts of it are practically in our faces every minute of every day. As with illegal narcotics, it's a case of 'just say no'. Actually putting that into practice is the difficult part.
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