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Sugar: The family that gave it up

Family meal How hard is it to avoid sugar entirely in family meals?

When their daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, the whole Burt family gave up sugar. Just how hard was it?

"For about a month it was like having a hangover and being so very groggy, lethargic, I couldn't concentrate," said Jason Burt, "and then gradually it was like a cloud lifting."

Jason Burt's daughter Lucy, who is 16, found out she had diabetes Type 1, also known as diabetes mellitus, in September 2011.

It means the pancreas does not produce insulin to regulate blood glucose levels. If the amount of glucose in the blood is too high, the body's organs may be damaged.

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The family, which includes two other children Jack, 12 and Emma, 18, has always lived what Jason calls a holistic life, with homeopathy and home schooling also a part of their lifestyle - so when Lucy was diagnosed it was a shock.

Their doctor said that Lucy should check her blood levels regularly, inject insulin, but continue to eat a normal, balanced diet.

However Jason and his wife Clare felt that they and their three children should all give up sugar.

"It was a solidarity thing... it just made obvious sense that by giving up sugar, we're supporting her in a diet that we think is the best diet for her and her diabetes," Jason Burt told Radio 4's Food Programme.

They went against the doctor's advice, and have been following a low carbohydrate, no sugar, high protein, high fat diet, with lots of vegetables.

They said it was very hard and uncomfortable to begin with, but now they all feel healthier, have higher levels of concentration, eat less overall, and their food bill has gone down too.

Lucy Burt's diabetes is under control. She still takes a bit of insulin, but is mostly stable.

Jason and Clare Burt Jason and Clare Burt's family have a sugar-free, low carbohydrate, high protein diet

As a family they worked out they have lost 8.5 stone, with Jason and Clare losing three each.

"I suppose and you started to feel more awake, more aware and since then I haven't looked back because my energy levels have been constantly good," said Jason Burt.

Food for thought:

Explore the debate on R4's Food Programme on Sunday at 12:32 BST

"I lost nearly three stone which to be fair I had a lot to lose. There's still more I could do with losing… and energy levels have just been much better."

Their blood pressure is the same but they have not had cholesterol tests.

It has been particularly hard for the family to give up sugar, as they own a business called Farmhouse Cookery making 2500-3000 cakes a week supplying farm shops in the South East.

Clare Burt said she had to wrestle with balancing the two very different aspects of her life.

"I really struggled with it when Lucy was first diagnosed.

Farmhouse cookery cake stall The Burts have plenty of other willing testers to taste the cakes that they can no longer sample

"It just felt that our home life and our work life weren't particularly congruent and that didn't sit well with me and it gave me quite a few sleepless nights.

"But I had a conversation with a good friend who reminded me that people won't stop eating cakes just because Lucy has been diagnosed with diabetes."

"Initially it did feel wrong but we still have to pay our bills, that's the reality of it all and it would take us time to evolve the business into something where we didn't use sugar," says Jason.

"Maybe in time we'll look at going into more savoury products rather than being just a confectionary bakery. That might be one answer. But I think the reality of life is that we need to keep the business going, we need to keep the money that it generates and it's still doing quite well."

Sweet seekers:

Lips covered in sugar

They use about half a tonne of sugar a week in their baking - mainly caster sugar and icing sugar but also a dark brown sugar, a dark muscovado sugar, a light muscovado sugar, and black treacle, golden syrup and honey.

As any good cook knows, you have to taste test your recipes as you go.

Having given up sugar, how do they taste what they are making?

"We're not short cake tasters are we, there are plenty of volunteers. If absolutely necessary we will try tiny amounts," says Clare.

"The good thing here is that the recipes haven't changed for 30 years. Most things taste sweet so in that respect we're not great tasters but there are plenty of people that are."

Despite the family having given up sugar, Jason feels strongly that the government has got its policy the wrong way round on obesity by blaming fat not sugar.

He also feels that big companies get away with misleading marketing when they advertise their products as low fat, when they might have very high sugar levels.

Clare thinks eliminating sugar from a diet entirely is tricky, and advocates moderation.

"For me growing up cake was always a Sunday afternoon treat it wasn't an everyday occurrence but now it's very different for the children, the younger generations today," she said.

"Cakes or biscuits or some sweet thing or a number of sweet things are daily occurrences. It's just become excessive. If everything's in moderation then surely that's OK."

Listen to more on Radio 4's Food Programme on Sunday at 12:32, Monday at 15:30, or on iPlayer.

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