“… and the Lord said: You shall put sugar in everything you eat.” Or so it would seem, if we consider the amounts of sugar present in just about any Ashkenazi (Sefardi are a bit less guilty) food item. From chollo bread to fish, from pickles to cholent. Every condiment like mayonnaise or horseradish is packed with the stuff. Maybe it’s a comfort-food attitude that helped us face centuries of dangers and oppression. Without the sweetness we complain that it “doesn’t taste quite right”, probably referring to childhood memories of our grand-parents Shabbos meals. The difference being that in our grand-parents days food wasn’t as heavily processed as it is today. Whatever it is, we have to stop!
Rather than fat, as was originally thought, it is sugar that is the biggest threat to our health. Both the World Health Organisation and Government advisers in England have recently proposed a cut in their recommendations for sugar consumption. The new advice is that sugar should account for 5% of energy intake, down from 10%. The NHS reckons the average person in Britain now consumes about 700g of sugar a week (140 teaspoons). Experts say that our bodies can handle only half of that.So why can’t we stop eating it, and is sugar becoming a socially acceptable drug?
Let’s have a look at the ingredients listed in our regular shopping items. Any ingredient that ends in ‘ose’ is a sugar, and there is a long list of them: glucose, fructose, dextrose, maltose, sucrose, lactose, and high-fructose corn syrup. Any food with sugar in the first three ingredients is a bad idea because all refined sugars have absolutely no nutritional value: no proteins, no essential fats, no vitamins or minerals; these ‘oses’ are empty calories.
Unfortunately cutting sugar it’s not as simple as cutting out foods that you know are packed with sugar. The food industry has contaminated the food supply with added sugar to sell more products. Of the 600.000 food items in American grocery stores, 80% have been added with sugar and the industry uses 56 other names for it on the labels. They know that when they add sugar we buy more, but we don’t know what we are buying.
The chairman of the Functional Medicine Institute, Dr Mark Hyman, says that the combinations of sugar, fat and salt in processed foods have hijacked our taste buds, brain chemistry and metabolism, because these foods are addictive. Jenna Zoe author of ‘Super healthy snacks and treats’ says “we are programmed to opt for sweet foods because in nature sweetness is a sign that foods are safe to eat as opposed to poisonous plants that are bitter in taste. The problem arises with processed foods, because sweeteners are used in conjunction with junky fats or hydrogenated oils: this is where the addictiveness is created. In nature, sugars and fats are not often found in the same foods”.
It has become urgent for Jewish eating habits to embrace a more responsible approach to sugar. To have a healthier approach to eating and shopping, we should not just take a note of our obvious sugary indulgences, but also be aware of all the hidden sugars we come across. If not we’ll be facing a growing plethora of health disorders as being a pawn in the addiction-enducing food industry’s cynical game.