5th February 2014

Does a spoonful of sugar help the medicine go down?

By Emma Newnes on Wednesday February 5, 2014

As a self confessed sugar-holic, I’ve been watching the recent sugar debate with great interest.

There has been huge media focus on the topic (no, not the chocolate bar) over the past couple of weeks, including documentaries, articles and comments. Experts are now suggesting the major cause of the obesity epidemic is in fact the sugar added to our food, not the fat content, as has been claimed for many years.

Campaigners, who have spent years working to cut salt from our diets, are now so concerned about the effects the sugar has on our bodies, they have changed the focus of their attention from salt to sugar. ‘Action on Sugar’ was launched last month by the same people that cut the salt in food by 17%, to help prevent a crisis and save the NHS billions of pounds each year.

The group has suggested that if the food industry can cut sugar servings by 30%, the obesity crisis could be reversed in five years. This is something I am finding slightly hard to believe. Of course if sugar consumption is reduced it will bring health benefits, but to claim it will reverse the obesity crisis is slightly irresponsible. People may now feel they can rely on the food industry to cut the sugar from their food and instantly lose weight, rather than relying on a healthy balanced diet and exercise.

Action on Sugar has certainly been successful in getting the media on side and, from a personal perspective, made me think more about the amount of sugar I actually consume in a day.

However, it is important that the media doesn’t get too carried away and turn what can be a very positive campaign into a negative. Several publications have already turned on fruit and recently, a national newspaper ran an article exploring the ‘shocking truth about sugar’ which included the below point:

* All fruit contains sugar but not in equal amounts. The most sugary are raisins and other dried fruits, then grapes and bananas. A tiny packet (14g) of raisins contains two teaspoons of sugar, while an average size banana contains the equivalent of three teaspoons.

After years of the government and health organisations campaigning for the UK population, and in particular children, to eat ‘five a day’, it is surprising to see a national media channel act in a way that could cause so much harm to a campaign that has worked tirelessly to make the UK a healthier nation.

It is fine to raise awareness of the sugar content contained in unsuspecting foods, and I must admit, learning that dried fruit has a high sugar content was quite surprising. However, it is just as important that the media also highlight the benefits and nutrients that come from eating fruit.

With Action on Sugar expected to meet with the health secretary this week, I will continue to watch the developments of the great sugar debate with great interest.