Taking sugar away is not the answer
The government’s recent sugar-centric attempts to tackle the obesity crisis may be providing only half an answer.
Sugar in the spotlight
Sugar’s recent journey to being firmly on the government’s radar has been several years in the making. It began with the discovery of so-called “hidden” sugars in our foods, in turn leading to an examination of the sugar content in soft drinks. Faced by the societal pressure this generated, government decided to act, introducing the UK’s sugar tax on 6 April 2018.
At Ragus, we have seen attitudes towards sugar peak and trough like this for decades. The acceptance of its presence in our food and drinks follows trends. One minute sugar-free is all the rage, the next consumers are told to embrace the natural benefits of sugar.
Estimated to raise £520 million, the sugar tax will be used to fund sport in primary schools in a bid to address the root cause of the country’s obesity crisis. Initial signs show it is fulfilling this money generating objective. As of last November, £154 million has already been generated.
These numbers make for good reading for lawmakers but beg questions. Anecdotal evidence alone shows that consumers are now turning to cheaper sugar-free options. Is the correct approach to drive them towards these, particularly given that the sugar alternatives they use are not always a healthier bet?
Zero sugar is not always better
The government may be targeting sugar in a bid to deal with the obesity crisis, but have they failed to examine what happens when people choose to consume the alternatives? Often, zero calorie, zero sugar foods and drinks are not healthier. This is because the calories in/calories out view of weight loss ignores the fact that our bodies are complex and nuanced machines.
Zero calorie foods and drinks dampen natural fat burners. Highly processed foods, where they are often found, are essentially pre-digested foods. As such, the body’s natural fat burners do not kick in and become supressed and dormant.
Diet soft drinks, many of which were reformulated after the introduction of the sugar tax to contain no sugar, are equally as misleading. Their sweet taste informs the body to expect the arrival of calories. When this subsequently does not happen, our hunger instinct is triggered, meaning we simply reach for more food.
More needs to be done than erasing sugar
Pinning the blame solely on sugar seems unfair and narrow-minded, especially when we look at the alternatives. A more holistic approach is needed, one that also addresses the misconceptions behind calorific content and the role of fat.
Sugar is essential to our foods and drinks. Wantonly stripping it out can cause more problems than it creates. Initiatives like the sugar tax may have won plaudits, but are they just a short-term fix to an issue that requires addressing through wholesale and lasting change?