About 10,000 years ago people in New Guinea began to cultivate cane sugar. Shortly before the fall of Rome, conversion to crystals was invented in India. Arabs brought sugar to the Mediterranean, then Spanish and Portugese conquistadors brought sugar and African slaves to the Americas. The seductive sweetness and unpaid labour soon brought sugar production up and prices down, feeding the global cravings in which we are entangled today.

Studies show that sugar is more likely to calm a crying infant than mother’s milk and brain dopamine (pleasure) rewards have been connected to sugar consumption. Powerful stuff, sugar, and hard to avoid now that the stuff has been introduced into so much of what we eat and drink.

Manufacturers of the foods containing added sugars often disguise the sugars under one of the 50 or more names for sugars and high fructose syrups. Sugars have replaced fats in products labeled “health food bars”. This was not exactly a plot, just the unfortunate vehicle for feeding a craving that is now clearly dangerous to our health.

Sugar is beginning to show up in combination with the epidemic of obesity and is already known to cause tooth decay. In any case, added sugar is not an essential nutrient but merely a temptation.

The key to controlling sugar intake is to remember that a calorie of sugar is a calorie of sugar no matter what form it takes, so don’t overdo the sugars. To keep your body healthy you are better off eating essential nutrients instead of empty calories.

The foods we need consist of water, proteins, fats (lipids) and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are built from simple sugars and starches are a form of carbohydrate. We need all these substances and not too much of any of them.

Go heavy on the fruits and vegetables, and plan meals with substantial quantities of starchy carbohydrates, some dairy, some protein (beans, pulses, fish eggs meat, etc.) and use natural cooking oils such as olive oil, sunflower and safflower oils in cooking and dressings if you want to avoid GMOs. Drink water rather than fruit juices or pop, both of which will overload you with sugar.

People arriving from Asia notice that our versions of their traditional foods are much too sweet. I have noticed that Japanese recipes often call for sugar in savoury dishes and now I discover that Japan has over 7 million people with diabetes.

Food hero Jamie Oliver has a PLAN and you can find it here: http://www.jamieoliver.com/theplan/.  Jamie’s plan includes a good analysis of the causes of his enemy, childhood obesity, and plenty of tips and recipes to establish healthier eating habits. I particularly like his advice to make eating treats an occasion, rather than constantly snacking or eating straight from the container. Treats are no longer treats if they are constantly available and that takes the fun right out.

The only way for us to turn this around is for parents to act like parents and adults to stop acting like children. Parents must set boundaries for their children and smart adults will set limits on their own unhealthy cravings.

Marjorie Stewart
Marjorie Stewart is past chair of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at: email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Article originally posted in the Nanaimo Bulletin