The War on Sugar: How The Tide Is Turning

I have a look at our attitudes to sugar and wonder if anything has really changed since the launch of the eye-opening That Sugar Film in 2014. Have we realised the dangers of hidden sugar or are we still ladling it down our throats? 

I remember when That Sugar Film came out. I know that it shocked a lot of people. It was cheeky, funny and tragic - a look at the effects of sugar and the availability of it in our every day life. I remember back in 2014 it was considered ground breaking, and kind of provocative. 

Because everyone was still eating sugar in packaged foods and smoothies and not really knowing it.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

The great thing about That Sugar Film wasn't necessarily the experiment itself, or those lovely yellow Y-fronts (lovely as they were) - it was the way it opened our eyes to how addicted to sugar we all are. Tired and moody, with dark circles under our eyes and an ever-expanding waistline, we plonk ourselves onto the treadmill of life, looking hungrily and desperately for our next sugar fix. We're tempted by the neon lights and slick and sexy advertising from companies pouring the stuff into our fish fingers, pasta sauce and bread. We're conditioned to believe that if we love someone - our children, our parents, our friends, our partner - we need to feed them sugary treats to prove it (don't believe me? Think of Valentine's Day). We're reassured by scientists saying sugar's OK, until we find they're sponsored by food and drink brands in the sugar industry. We saw that in experiments rats worked harder for a sugar reward than they did for cocaine. And how just a few months of eating a supposed 'healthy, low fat' diet could affect our bodies and have us teetering on the edge of fatty liver disease and potentially Type 2 Diabetes. 

Intense stuff. 

But has it made any difference? Have we, as a worldwide community, well and truly declared war on sugar? Are we done with it, or will we keep on stuffing salted caramel chocolate brownies down our throats?

I think we have, and I think the tide is definitely turning. 

With the success of Sarah Wilson's I Quit Sugar books and eBooks, along with That Sugar Film, we saw that there was a different way and that avoiding or severely limiting sugar was achievable and doable. Sarah Wilson's books are funny, down to earth and the recipes are easy to follow. I've made a few of them. 

I gave up sugar in 2013, when I got back from Argentina after a 10-day ice cream, alfajor and dulce de leche binge while visiting relatives. And the changes I saw were incredible. My spots disappeared, I became a healthy weight for the first time ever and my skin kind of glowed. My moods were more stable and I was happier. Less anxious. My sugar cravings left after a few (terrible) days. I just felt calmer and looked kind of younger. This was someone I never knew I could be, because since I was born and could open my mouth I'm pretty sure I was fed sugar. 

Medical professionals here in the UK have added their voices, too. Aseem Malhotra, a top Cardiologist, was one of the first to speak up and declare that it was sugary and processed foods - not fat - that was the culprit in many cases of heart disease - and I remember reading it on the front page of the newspaper at the time, so it was a big deal. 

Dr Chatterjee is another who is spreading the word that a healthy diet low in sugar and processed food and high in nutrients (along with a healthy lifestyle) could ease many chronic illnesses. 

The paleo movement is growing, with the launch of The UK Paleo Awards to recognise those who campaign for a healthier lifestyle, whether they're authors, bloggers, farmers or food producers. 

In 2016, Time Magazine published a front page showing just a soft, creamy curl of butter on a black background. Inside, its pages added weight to sugar, and not fat, as the cause of many of our health problems and debunked the problematic Ancel Keys study from the 1950s, that said otherwise. 

In 2017 the UK government proposed a plan for food producers to cut sugar in foods by 20%. It's a start. 

And in December 2017, the University of Warwick issued a video talking about the dangers of sugar and its context in history as well as today. 

Look around the supermarkets, in restaurants, caf├ęs and in your kid's lunchbox. You'll still see hidden sugar all over the place. But we're becoming more savvy. It's important to remember that a bar made from dates and nuts still contains a lot of sugar, let's not forget that. But things are changing. And companies are going to have to keep up with us consumers, because it's us that lead demand and therefore supply. So make sure you use your voice. And your wallet.

Although I keep a very low sugar diet and I consider myself a healthy eater, sugar continues to be a problem for me. It's an addiction. And if someone offers me a chocolate biscuit then, on a bad day, I'm going to take that sucker and dip it in my tea. But every time I wake up and start again and that's what counts. I know I need to live a sugar-free, or at the very least, a low-sugar life, because that is what works best for me.  I get moody. Anxious. My psoriasis flares and my IBS comes back. Itchy, moody and sad. The sugar-free me is much more fun to be with. Trust me. 

So remember this when you're out shopping or filling your kid's lunchbox with a handful of berries instead of a pre-packaged, store-bought fruit smoothie. Things are changing. Hidden refined sugar's on the way out. 

And if we choose to eat it, that's individual choice. But we don't want it hidden in our sauces, dips, mayonnaise, fish fingers and baked goods, thank you very much. We're getting wiser to where it is, and that's a good thing.

Because that slick of butter on Time Magazine is all very well, but not if it's melted over a sugar-soaked tea cake with lashings of jam. 

What do you think? Do you think people's perceptions of the sugar hidden in foods is changing? Do you think we're becoming more aware? Let me know in the comments below!