Stephen Jardine: Sugar is perfectly safe

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage
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IT’S a new year so it must be time for a new food scare. Some 12 months on from Horse-gate the poor consumer has something else to worry about and this time it’s everywhere.

Two centuries ago sugar hardly featured in our diet. Then a regular trade was established with plantations in the West Indies and it did not take long for our sweet tooth to become well established. Now the average Scot consumes almost a kilo of sugar a week, in one form or another.

For a long time the greatest worry was the damage it did to teeth but in recent years the dark clouds have been gathering around sugar.

Last week the storm broke when a new campaigning group Action on Sugar was launched with the warning that when it comes to the impact on health, sugar is the new tobacco.

It didn’t take long for that to provoke a reaction. On Tuesday supermarket discounter Lidl announced it was withdrawing sweets from the checkout at it’s 600 stores after more than 70 per cent of parents surveyed complained they were pestered for chocolate and sweets as they queued.

From now on the stores will offer healthy snacks like fruit and nuts.

Of course chocolate and sweets will still be available on the shelves but some anti-sugar campaigners don’t even agree with that.

Leading the charge against the industry is Professor of Clinical Paediatrics at the University of California Robert Lustig who claims sugar is toxic and “a poison in itself”. His argument is that sugar is the one substance the human body doesn’t know how to process and that leads to harmful consequences, including obesity.

So are we approaching a day when high-sugar food will carry health warnings like cigarettes or even additional taxation ?.

The latter option was tried in Denmark but dropped last year when the government there admitted it had cost jobs and put up prices without making any real impact on consumption.

Eradicating sugar from our diet completely is something few people would contemplate, except my wife.

This week she started a two-week sugar fast as part of a newspaper study into the effect it has on our bodies.

With help from a nutritionist she’s trying to avoid any foods with a trace of sugar and it isn’t easy.

“I definitely feel less sluggish and I haven’t experienced the sugar highs and lows but it’s not easy to follow because sugar is everywhere”, she said.

So far she’s doing well but when the experiment ends I fully expect to find her devouring a giant Toblerone.

But we don’t need a sugar ban. Sugar is clearly labelled on produce.

Like most food scares, we just need to use our common sense.