Whilst out harvesting hawthorn berries last week, a fellow forager asked me what advice I would give them regarding their diet; I was on a wild medicine course at the time, this isn’t a ‘normal’ day for me.

It is always a little unnerving when someone catches you off guard like that, especially when you are absolutely clueless as to what their current diet actually consists of! However, by making some outrageously massive assumptions I deduced that as she was on a wild medicine course, seemed educated and somewhere in middle of the socioeconomic scale, she was probably eating a relatively well balanced diet. So I threw out my one liner …

“If I could give you once piece of advice, it would be to cut back on and continue to modify your sugar consumption”.

Poison SugarSimple, or so you would think. But it seems that unless you are able to make every single meal and snack from scratch, we are literally being bombarded with the deadly white stuff from all angles. And try as hard as we might to patrol our products, the food industry just become more and more crafty about how they sneak it into our food. Of course they are obliged to tell us their produce contains sugar, but in an effort to throw us off course the list of alternative names for sugar currently stands at 61, and rising:

  • Agave nectar
  • Barbados sugar
  • Barley malt
  • Barley malt syrup
  • Beet sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Buttered syrup
  • Cane juice
  • Cane juice crystals
  • Cane sugar
  • Caramel
  • Carob syrup
  • Castor sugar
  • Coconut palm sugar
  • Coconut sugar
  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Corn syrup solids
  • Date sugar
  • Dehydrated cane juice
  • Demerara sugar
  • Dextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Free-flowing brown sugars
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Glucose
  • Glucose solids
  • Golden sugar
  • Golden syrup
  • Grape sugar
  • HFCS (High-Fructose Corn Syrup)
  • Honey
  • Icing sugar
  • Invert sugar
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltol
  • Maltose
  • Mannose
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Muscovado
  • Palm sugar
  • Panocha
  • Powdered sugar
  • Raw sugar
  • Refiner’s syrup
  • Rice syrup
  • Saccharose
  • Sorghum Syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar (granulated)
  • Sweet Sorghum
  • Syrup
  • Treacle
  • Turbinado sugar
  • Yellow sugar

Hopefully I didn’t lose you there?! If not, before you go printing off that list, I can make your life a lot simpler. Forget about what name sugar has been disguised under and simply look at the Nutrition Facts label that features on all food and drink products in the UK. This makes life so much easier for us, especially when you consider our bodies can only metabolise one teaspoon of sugar at a time. Under the heading of carbohydrates, look for ‘of which sugars’.  One teaspoon of sugar equates to 4g, and that is all you need to remember, there is no more science to it than that.

So when I found myself in Sainsbury’s sourcing ‘snacks’ with our teenage daughter, I decided to heed my own advice by questioning her on the sugar content of the various drinks she was trying to squirrel into the shopping basket. Her favourite sugary tipple, in case you were wondering, is a fruit smoothie.

But let’s take the people’s favorite, the steadfast can of Coca Cola, as an example. We can see from the Nutrition Facts chart below that each 330ml can contains 35g of sugar. Regardless of what type of sugars, or which special name they have, that’s a whopping 9 teaspoons of sugar you’re about to put into yours or your child’s body!

Typical Values Per: 100ml Per: 330ml (%*)
Energy: 180kJ/ 594kJ/
42kcal 139kcal (7%)
Fat: 0g 0g (0%)
of which saturates: 0g 0g (0%)
Carbohydrate: 10.6g 35g (13%)
of which sugars: 10.6g 35g (39%)
Protein: 0g 0g (0%)
Salt: 0g 0g (0%)
*Reference intake of an average adult (8400kJ/2000kcal)

And Coca Cola isn’t alone, there are plenty more soft drinks literally swimming with sugar:

Innocent Smoothie Mango & Passion Fruit 250ml 7 tsp sugar
Volvic Touch of Fruit Strawberry 500ml 3 tsp sugar
Juicy Water Oranges & Lemons 420ml 10 tsp sugar
Cawston Prss Elderflower Lemonade 330ml 2 tsp sugar
Monster Energy 500ml 14 tsp sugar
Lucozade Sport Orange 750ml 7 tsp sugar
7 Up 330ml 9 tsp sugar
Coco Cola 330ml 9 tsp sugar
Lucozade Pink Lemonade 380ml 4 tsp sugar

All we have done here is look at a few examples of soft drinks, but of course that is only scratching the surface. Consider breakfast cereals, snack bars, ready meals, crisps, confectionary, cakes and biscuits; the list goes on and on. This presents a total mine field for the consumer, meanwhile the big wigs in the food industry literally skip to the bank whilst we become more and more addicted to their sugar laden products.

It is no surprise that we are now looking a diabetes epidemic straight in the face, with 1 in 10 of us over 16 likely to develop the condition. It is also no surprise that we are seeing a ratio of 1 in 2 deaths being caused by cancer and the same statistics for heart disease, and yes, those figures do apply to the UK and not the US.

It would be impossible and unfair to expect everyone to overhaul their diet in the blink of an eye, but if you could make one positive change for yourself and your family, ditch the soft drinks and switch to water. If you don’t know what your teenage brood are drinking when they’re out of sight, perhaps now is the time to start asking them. Once you have the soft drinks in hand, start applying the same theory as you travel down the rest of the aisles in the supermarket. You’ll be amazed at the secret places sugar is hiding …

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