A tax on sugar will only go sour

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Sugar has been a hot topic of conversation over recent weeks with calls for a tax on the product to stop obesity. It has been claimed that sugar can be addictive and the World Health Organisation has recommended that our daily sugar intake should be halved to being five percent of our total calorie intake instead of ten. The focus has mainly been on hidden sugars, found in everyday products such as yogurts, flavoured water, sauces and bread, prompting England’s medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, to tell an MP committee that a sugar tax may be necessary.

It’s almost like people should suddenly regret eating a Galaxy bar. Headlines claiming that “sugar could be addictive” are clearly nothing new; any chocaholic like me knows that there is something about a happy sugar rush that none of us want to give up. The issue is when it comes to so-called “hidden” sugars. This is something that has really got me thinking. As someone with a life-long aversion to anything resembling fruit I know that my hidden sugar intake is pretty unhealthy, but in a new-found urgency to do something about my diet, I’ve found myself examining the tiny charts on food packaging to truly understand the amount of sugar in my diet. It doesn’t make for easy reading. My weakness tends to be yogurts (I’ve also had a life-long aversion to milk, so yogurt is kind of important for my calcium intake). I’m a fan of Muller corners, particularly the banana chocolate flakes ones. The catch? Muller cheekily measures it dietary information per 100g when the yogurt itself is 135g. So that 16.8g of sugar actually becomes 22.68g – only three grams away from being labelled as a product “high in sugar” according to guidelines.

Even something as purportedly healthy as dried fruit can be detrimental when it comes to sugar levels. Raisins are an integral part of my breakfast, but the fact that they are dried fruit means that their fructose levels are more concentrated and therefore worse for you. Equally, processed carbohydrates – white bread, white rice, and white pasta – are so refined that you get a quicker digestion and a quicker rush of sugar into your bloodstream without providing much else in terms of nutrients. Widely fluctuating blood sugar levels, if left untreated, eventually increases the risk of insulin no longer working in the body and therefore your risk of developing type two diabetes.

It’s certainly got me worried, and it’s tempting to try to cut sugar in my diet like this woman did for the Guardian. But what frustrates me more is the amount of conflicting information in the news, in turn leading to a society that is negatively obsessed with food. Whilst it’s clear that sugar is bad for you and is contributing to increased levels of childhood and adult obesity, most other types of food can be labelled as unhealthy too. Red meat is apparently bad for your heart, processed meat carries health risks, teenagers are eating far too much salt… About the only thing to escape scrutiny is fish, which is bad news for me – if you haven’t guessed already, I’m a pretty fussy eater.

What the public needs is one clear set of guidelines on eating healthily and an eradication of any other fad diets portrayed in the media. The only way to dig yourself out of a sugar molehill is by monitoring your intake and taking everything in moderation. Underneath all the controversy surrounding this new sugar nightmare, most of us are still aware that everything is okay for you if taken in moderation – from red meat to salt to the occasional takeaway.

What underlies this controversy, however, is the mental culture that this media frenzy is feeding. I don’t think I’m alone in constantly questioning what I’m eating, whether it’s good for me, whether I’m allowed a treat, whether I’m actually hungry or not. The media is doing little to help this obsessive nature of our relationship with food. Unless a scientist can come up with the optimum diet that will provide us with just the right amount of every nutrient we need, in turn eradicating all other options, an obesity epidemic isn’t going to be helped by taxing sugar. Radical steps need to be taken to ensure that we foster not only a healthy diet but a healthy mentality when it comes to the food we eat.

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