Sugar – Whose Side Are YOU On ?

The accusatory tone is deliberate: sugar is the next big conflict for the food industry. The battle lines have been drawn with the newly svelte Jamie Oliver on the side of prohibition / eye-watering taxation and the likes of Food and Drink Federation Director General Ian Wright arguing vociferously that is unhelpful to demonise particular ingredients. 
 
So surely this will play well for the natural foods industry ? Not necessarily.
 
Firstly, many health-food shops sell plenty of sugar and similar sweeteners, either as they are or as ingredients in manufactured products. There might be ecological or taste advantages in  using apple juice concentrate, raw cane sugar or coconut blossom sugar but the nutritional benefits are minimal. Secondly, the natural foods industry tends to avoid intense sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame, cyclamates and so on) on the perfectly reasonable grounds that they have all been banned somewhere, at some point. As a result natural foods can be more energy dense than mainstream products – compare a smoothie to a diet Coke . Thirdly, foods made without sugar sometimes lack flavour. For example, despite all the work done on Stevia-sweetened chocolate currently it does not deliver on either taste or significant levels of calorie reduction.
 
The answer to our burgeoning problems with obesity and dental decay might lie closer to home: personal responsibility. Professor Marion Nestle has argued for many years that the exponential rise in portion sizes in US fast food establishments has been the major driver of excessive calorie consumption. What would happen if we ate a bit less ? Much easier when products are manufactured in smaller portions. Here is somewhere that the health-food trade could excel: right-sized products. Downsizing servings would also help the increasing number of single households. Without portion control reformulation cannot work. So let’s keep our natural, delicious and energy-dense nuts, chocolate and snacks: let’s just eat less of them, less frequently. And then we won’t have to go back to the bad old days of poor taste and lousy sales.