Can Britain end its love affair with sugar?

 

Where is sugar found in the diet and what does it do to your body?

Ask someone how much sugar they consume and the chances are they would vastly underestimate the amount.

Research has shown that the average Briton packs away 238 teaspoons a week - that is nearly 1kg.

The reason? So much is hidden, says Dr Gail Rees, a nutrition expert from Plymouth University.

"It's not just in the obvious culprits, such as fizzy drinks and confectionery.

"Sugar is lurking in any number of seemingly innocuous everyday foodstuffs, such as canned tomatoes, salad dressings, peanut butter, breakfast cereals, bread, pasta - the list goes on."

A drawing of black slaves harvesting sugar cane, watched over by a white man holding a whip Slaves from West Africa were forced to work on sugar plantations

Of course, it wasn't always like this.

Prior to the 1600s, it was the preserve of the rich.

Instead, honey was the main way of sweetening food.

That began to change in the 1600s when settlers on Barbados discovered sugar cane thrived in the island's stony soil.

And so began the "sugar rush" as slaves were transported form West Africa to work on the plantations.

Bete noire

By the early 1800s Britons were consuming over 5kg per year on average.

But after the Gladstone government decided to lift the tax on sugar in the 1870s, consumption jumped again topping 20kg by the time Queen Victoria's reign came to an end.

How to cut sugar intake

  • Swap fizzy drinks for water or unsweetened fruit juice.
  • Swap cakes or biscuits for a currant bun, scone or some malt loaf with low-fat spread.
  • Gradually reduce the amount of sugar you use in hot drinks and cereal until you can cut it out altogether.
  • Rather than spreading jam, marmalade, syrup, treacle or honey on your toast, try a low-fat spread, sliced banana or low-fat cream cheese.
  • Check nutrition labels to help you pick the foods with less added sugar or go for the low-sugar version.
  • Try halving the sugar you use in your recipes - it works for most things except jam, meringues and ice cream.
  • Choose wholegrain breakfast cereals, but not those coated with sugar or honey.

Now experts want us to curb the amount we eat amid suggestions it is addictive and a major cause of obesity.

This week the World Health Organization has called for sugar consumption to be halved, while England's chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies has suggested a sugar tax should be reinstated.

No doubt cutting back will prove difficult for many - Britain is known as a nation with a sweet-tooth.

But it begs the question: why such a flurry of activity now after 400 years of enjoying the white stuff?

It is partly a response to research which has started to suggest sugar is both addictive and a more potent harm to health than other sources of calories.

But it is also related to the fact that the argument to reduce salt consumption - the other bete noire of nutritionists - has been won. Intake is estimated to have fallen by 15% over the last 10 years.

A leading voice in that movement was Professor Graham MacGregor, an expert in cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine.

He has just set up a new campaign, Action on Sugar, with the aim of reducing "hidden sugars" by 20% to 30% over the next three to five years.

"It's time we took added sugar out of foods and soft drinks," he says.

The war on sugar has begun.

 
Nick Triggle Article written by Nick Triggle Nick Triggle Health correspondent

The NHS plan: Five things we've learned

NHS chiefs have unveiled a five-year vision for the health service in England. But what are the key points?

Read full article

More on This Story

More from Nick

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    +37

    Comment number 30.

    Paracelsus wrote in the 16th century that:

    'All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.'

    Bear this in mind when you read this article, and you won't go far wrong.

  • rate this
    +34

    Comment number 65.

    If ending this love affair with sugar means starting a new one with aspartame and the plethora of other artificial sweeteners, then I'd recommend Britain stays in its current relationship.

  • rate this
    +31

    Comment number 91.

    Given that in high doses water, and even oxygen are toxic and can kill you, a little perspective is needed.

    It's not sugar that's a problem, it's the quantities and lack of exercise. A "war on sugar" is a joke.

    Instead of metaphorical "wars", why not have metaphorical "love ins" with education on balanced diet and exercise taking the lead..?

    Oh yes, that can't be taxed. Duh.

  • rate this
    +28

    Comment number 4.

    "The war on sugar has begun."

    The war on hyperbole, however, is long since over. We lost.

  • rate this
    +22

    Comment number 94.

    It's remarkable how easy it is to get used to the taste of added sugar, to the point where you don't really notice how sugary something is.

    Stop adding sugar to your tea/coffee for just a couple of weeks. At first it will taste bitter. Then you will get used to it. After a while, try drinking one with added sugar. You will find the taste horrible!

 

Comments 5 of 357

 

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.