A nude Adam and Eve ponder over an apple or piece of fruit before their fall from innocence...

Even God tried to warn us about eating fruit…

A school recently came out saying they’d introduced a “…new rule to confiscate juice cartons from children’s lunch boxes. Instead, pupils would only be allowed to drink water.”

[Article in question] http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jan/17/how-fruit-juice-health-food-junk-food

Wonderful I thought! If I had kids I’d only ever have water in the house myself. However, what this article, and the ‘scientist’ has clearly overlooked is the fact that many of these drinks (i.e., WHOLE fruit smoothies and PURE orange juice) are bursting with nutrients, including potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin A, zinc, folic acid and much, much more. Which many kids don’t usually consume in their food (sadly). And smoothies and orange juice ‘with bits’ do contain fibre. These nutrients support health on all levels, including the functioning of the digestive system, liver and pancreas (for insulin).

Sugar IS certainly bad on the whole. And the trigger-happy habits of the food industry in adding it to everything in sight is a blight on the health of our nation. You’d be a fool to argue that. But education on eating fresh is vital, however vilifying sugar as a whole and implementing knee-jerk legislation encourages further underhand tactics from an already bullying industry. An emphasis on transparency should be encouraged, leaving the power of the purse to sway decisions.

Processed sugars are utterly crap for you though. But let’s not forget that many foods have been “proven” to be bad before, and scientists then move on to something new. Or rather, the press focus on one thing at a time. The war was on trans-fatty-acids not long ago. And saturated fats. Now it’s been proven that sat fats are ok in reasonable amounts. And essential to consume some. The benefits are high for sat fat for improving cardiovascular, lung, liver, brain, nerve and immune health. 5 years ago you’d be locked up for suggesting that!

Better the devil you know?

In SMALL amounts fruit juice and whole fruit smoothies are good. And whilst water is usually better – for many addicted to useless drinks loaded with ‘artificial’ amounts of sugar – what would be better? Drinking a zero-sugar fizzy drink with absolutely no nutrients at all? Or getting a whack of vitamins, minerals and trace elements that encourage every system in the body to work more efficiently? As with most viewpoints in the media, each side neglects the benefits of the other. Fructose is healthy when it is eaten as fruit, and not extracted and used as an ‘artificial’ sweetener. Whilst many would argue we don’t need sugar, it’s been part of the human diet for many thousands of years.

What would be better? Drinking a zero-sugar fizzy drink with absolutely no nutrients at all? Obviously water is best, but it’s a question of the lesser evil for many…

With the school ban on any drink at all except water though it goes much further; there is a very real risk that this could result in too little liquid being consumed by kids, as many adults struggle to just drink water. The emphasis needs to be on a full balanced diet, moderation, and plenty of exercise as the primary key. Sat in a classroom is bad for you!!!

This is a dangerously drastic approach. Understanding that a small glass of whole fruit smoothie is a very good way to get fruit into you, or your kids, and not to be consumed as a drink in large amounts is key. And a small glass of diluted orange juice over breakfast is an excellent part of a healthy and balanced diet. Balanced, balanced; nobody brings this life-saving ingredient into the sugar argument in the press. Knowledge is power.

But as with speeding and other modern crimes, education is the last thing on government and HO’s minds. It’s much easier to rule with policy and disruptive intervention, rather than a slower but ultimately more useful education process.

Can’t see the wood for the trees…

I’m less concerned with sugar in my diet, and in children’s diets particularly, and more concerned with processed food in general which is a problem. The issue is not sugar per se… it’s the high level of processing. So the war should be on processed food, as preparing your food fresh doesn’t have to be timely, costly or complicated.

The Guardian recently said

“added sugar has become so pervasive within the food environment that we can’t avoid it even if we wanted to.”

I don’t buy this theory – I don’t consume sugar in food unless I choose to – such as the odd bar of Chocolate. Yet the rest of my food is cooked fresh, and any sugar is either natural or minimal. But that’s not my worry…

Pringles are low in sugar, yet Pringles are by far and away the worst food you could possibly consume for your health. To put it into perspective, in terms of carcinogens, plain crisps have 300 µg/kg – Pringles have over 3000 µg/kg. They are termed ‘cancer in a can’. The sugar is not the cause, it’s the heat and pressure applied in processing. As a rule, the more processed and higher the heat and cooking pressure, the worse the food is.

Too much of anything is bad. As is too much salt. But the press MUST focus on both sides, as too little is life-threatening long before an excess. And too little in children is damaging, as the human body can’t absorb any water at all without salt. Utterly impossible in fact.

What about the long game?

I’d like to see a more beneficial long term solution. Which in part is surely adding more, and better quality cookery classes in schools, and a real and practical emphasis on how to create flavour combinations to make simple, easy, yummy food. and if necessary, using natural sweetening using ingredients such as lemon, honey, Maple Syrup or stevia leaf to add a sweet hit in food.

The government also need to subsidise the use of stevia, to encourage the use of it in place of cheap refined sugars. Stevia has no calories, contains no sugar or carbohydrates and boasts a glycemic index of 0, making it attractive to dieters.

Ultimately in a financially strapped climate, the race to the bottom of the cost pile results in poor nutrition. Vilifying foods to such a degree can cause dangerously opposite effects, such as too little salt in some children’s’ diets of parents who solely cook from  pure fresh ingredients, and can result in cramps, headaches, poor concentration and lack of water absorption in the body (water is totally useless without salt).

So focussing purely on sugar by the press the public, and the media worryingly neglects an even greater danger in modern lifestyles a lack of vitamins, fibre, nutrients.