Sugar, in general, is not poison. Breast milk contains sugar. The human bloodstream contains sugar, at all times, and the moment it doesn’t, we die.
David Katz, MD.
Sugar, like butter, lard, eggs and salt is the latest ingredient to be singled out and reviled as the sole ingredient responsible for our chronic ill-health. The “sugar” debate, as I write, is raging on all sides. Battalions of health experts, bloggers and public authorities are sending out the cavalry to attack sugar. Having been pretty much ignored during the butter and lard wars all eyes are now swivelled on the real culprit lurking sneakily in the shadow: sugar! Butter and lard are in the process of being rehabilitate and reabsorbed into the fold just as sugar is being excommunicated and exiled for ever as part of a balanced diet.
The campaign is slowly beginning to take off as hundreds toss their sugar bags on to the bonfire of the obesity epidemic. From now on children’s feasts will be unlovely affairs offering revellers the chance to indulge in a choice of dried fruit, nuts and water. Christmas food will be excruciatingly dull as families agonise whether the fructose in dried fruit is going to turn their children into obese couch potatoes or whether adding cranberry sauce to the turkey is a safe alternative?
Well good luck to those intrepid disciples of “Fed Up”. Sugar is such a pleasure to so many modern populations it is unlikely that its complete elimination from our diet is ever going to succeed. Sweet food is such a joy. A comfort food for those long, interminable grey winter days. A perfect something for the mid-afternoon dip, the special treat for kids whose knees or elbows have been grazed. Are we really going to give it all up?
Of course not. Nor should the modern everyday cook discard all sweetness and all sugar from their dishes. Sweetness has always formed an integral part of our diet just as much as butter, lard, eggs, salt and bone broths have done. Sweet is one of the four basic tastes and it has a role to play as part of a balanced diet. Sweetness indicates a food high in energy and nutrition.
As with salt, so with sugar. The vast majority of us consume sugar not through the food we prepare at home but through the convenience food we eat and drink. Therein lies the real danger of sugar – the over-consumption of convenience foods laced with liberal amounts of industrial sugars. Walk down the aisle of any supermarket or food shop and the visitor’s eye is greeted with row upon row, shelf upon shelf of packaged convenience food laced with fake, industrial sugars.
Given that sugar should be enjoyed, but handled with caution, does it make sense to rely on a faceless corporation to decide which sugars and which quantities should be added to the food we feed ourselves and our families?
At the end of the day, sugar campaigners are spreading a noble though slightly flawed message – some sugars, if eaten in moderation, can be enjoyed. It is how the food industry has manipulated sugar to their own ends that is the real challenge. Sugar shouldn’t be derided. The food industry should. Anti-sugar campaigners would be far better off explaining which sugars are harmful and which ones to use when preparing home-made dishes. It is only through knowledge that we can wean ourselves off convenience foods, which as Master in the Kitchen argues, is the root cause of our modern malnutrition, not individual ingredients per se.
The key is not to eliminate sugar from our diet – the key is to understand how sugar and sweetness works, for it is pretty much agreed by all that an excess amount of sugar is harmful – but then so too is an excess amount of well-intentioned instructions to eliminate all sweetness from our diet. Sugar, like zeal, should be handled with care.
For this reason Master in the Kitchen has set out which sugars or sweeteners to use when preparing a dish and which ones to avoid, plus some great sweet recipes.