Friday debate: sugar & tax

Sugar close-up Photo: tom Coates

Sugar close-up Photo: tom Coates

Sugar. It’s been all over the new for the past week or so since the chief medical officer for England suggested a ‘sugar tax’ may be needed to curb the nation’s love affair with the white stuff and start pushing down the country’s burgeoning rates of obesity. Dame Sally Davies told a panel of UK MP’s that the government needed to be “strong with food and drink manufacturers” in order to push them into reformulating products we all consume everyday. Is this a good or bad thing? Meddling with or helping the public at large and how much is too much sugar for someone to have?

Dame Sally’s comments have sparked a debate about how much sugar we should all be consuming. On Wednesday the WHO (World Health Organisation) waded into the debate and reiterated it’s advice that total sugar intake should be no more than 10% (with a target of 5%) of daily caloric intake. For an average person this is equal to 50g. This figure includes all sugars added to foods as well as natural sugars e.g. honey, fruit juice, fruit concentrate and fruit. This seems a pretty low figure when you think that an average orange contains 23g of sugar or nearly half your daily recommended intake!

Did the low fat revolution get us here?

And are we even sure that sugar is the big white addictive monster that is is currently being painted to be? For everyone who eats too much sugar and got fat I’ll show you someone who eats above the recommended level and is still slim, and I thought fat was the big bad we were supposed to be afraid of hiding under the bed? I remember reading article after article about how we need to cut down on our fat intake which was followed by a glut of new “low fat” foods coming on to the market. The only problem with those foods is that when you take out the fat it needs to be replaced by something else (i.e. sugar) so it still tastes recognisable and tasty.

I can’t eat that now?

Yesterday the Express ran an article where it claimed fatty food is less dangerous for us than sugary foods, you can read the full article on the Express Newspaper site here. Reading through it it seems we are being told to return to a Mediterranean diet and throw butter, milk and cheese back into our diets in moderation (remember when those were bad for us?) And just to confuse things a little bit more several news agencies Including this article on sky news) have run an article on how meat and cheese are bad for us in middle age and potentially as bad as smoking! So it comes back to the question, what can I eat?

Teaching your grandmother to suck eggs

In the end with so much continually conflicting and contradictory advice it’s becoming harder than ever to pick apart exactly what we should and should not be eating and just how much of anything we should have and how often. I think in the end the advice I live by is “a little of what you fancy does you good”. I know this doesn’t apply to everyone but looking at family experience my grandmother lived to 90 and her father to 95 by eating a bit of fat, a bit of sugar and being as active as possible. So what do I mean by teaching your grandmother to suck eggs? Well I mean at heart we all know that we should eat a balanced diet with as much variety as possible, don’t eat too much and keep active.

Beyond that is it right to tax a food stuff because current research shows it to be bad and because it is a contributing factor in obesity levels (which are pretty huge). What do we do if this advise and research is disproved after a tax is introduced, repeal it and give everyone a refund? And what about people who are a healthy weight but like a bit of cake or a can of cola now and then, should they be taxed because someone else eats far too much sugar? It’s an interesting debate and one I am really interested in.

By Russell Bowes

Find me on Google Plus, catch up and message me on Twitter and see more great pictures on Flickr and Pintrest

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