It’s hard to keep up with diet trends and food news. Are eggs bad for us this year? How about red wine? Are carbs Satan’s envoys? *
It seems all the things we’ve been told are lies: the great food villain is sugar and some scientists have known for almost fifty years.
An article in The Guardian’s long read series called “The sugar conspiracy” goes into detail about how and why the truth about sugar was suppressed for so long. (You can also listen to the story being read on The Guardian’s Long Read Podcast. The show is a great companion while running.)
The short version of the answer is that both big business and much of the scientific community promoted the idea that saturated fat was causing all of the problems in first-world, post-WWII diets because it seemed easy and logical at the time. Increased heart disease, obesity and diabetes — problems that have only become more serious and prevalent in the intervening decades — were blamed on fat. In the early 1980s, the governments of the UK and the US responded to these crises with new dietary rules.
The most prominent recommendation … was to cut back on saturated fats and cholesterol (this was the first time that the public had been advised to eat less of something, rather than enough of everything). Consumers dutifully obeyed. We replaced steak and sausages with pasta and rice, butter with margarine and vegetable oils, eggs with muesli, and milk with low-fat milk or orange juice. But instead of becoming healthier, we grew fatter and sicker.
Think about how many low-fat, no-fat and cholesterol-free products are on supermarket shelves. They’re all bad for you. Since those products went on the market, there have been a number of fad diets built around lower fat ingredients, but the results, if you just look at the general health of any Western country, contradict the assertion that fat was causing the problem.
The reason is really quite simple. To compensate for the lack of fat, which adds a lot of “good” flavor, food companies added more real and artificial sugar to their products, aggravating the problem. Diet soda is a lot worse for you than regular soda due to the added synthetic sugars, but Pepsi isn’t going to put that in its slogan. Instead, it will tell you that it has “just one calorie.”
The solution to all these food fads and craze diets is simple: don’t follow them. Try to eat real food, made from real ingredients. Watch your sugar intake just as much as you watch all the food you eat. Remember that fruits and carbohydrates all contain some sugar. All things in moderation. And in Paris, there’s really no excuse not to eat real food. You can buy some on every corner!
The NHS Says you should have about 30g of sugar a day, which is just 5% of your daily food allowance. More advice from them is here.
The American Heart Association also has some advice on how to cut down your sugar intake.
And here are some of the most common names sugar hides behind on food labels:
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Hydrolysed starch
- Invert sugar
- Malt sugar
- Raw sugar
- Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
Finally, if you really want to learn more, here’s a video called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” which is mentioned in the Guardian story.
(*) The answer to all of these questions is “no.”