My name is Annie and I, like most people in the Western world, am addicted to sugar. I wake up first thing in the morning and all I can think about is my sugar-fix. This generally continues, with cravings spiking throughout the day. Despite eating fairly healthy meals, I’m never satisfied unless I finish the meal on a something sweet. To be honest, I don’t think I realised it was a problem until I read about how much sugar is hidden in our food. I sat and counted the amount of sugar I consume on an average healthy day and am well and truly shocked. Typically I’ll eat porridge and honey at breakfast, cake or cookies as elevenses in the office, salad for lunch, a pick-me-up mocha in the afternoon, home-made vegetabley dish for dinner, a couple of glasses of wine and some chocolate in front of a movie. That totals at a whopping 120g of sugar, which is around 20 teaspoons. I’d think of that as a relatively healthy day, so I dread to think how much sugar I’m consuming on days where my self-control isn’t so good.
Sugar is a hot topic in the UK at the moment, especially with Jamie’s campaign for a tax on high-sugar drinks. I think the negative psychological and physical health consequences of a high-sugar diet are generally well understood, but that doesn’t stop it from being nigh-on impossible to go sugar-free. Because it tastes so damn good, food companies are finding a way to cram sugar into almost everything we see on the shelves in order to sell their products and keep us coming back for more. The sugar industry is highly corrupt and deceitful, with countless adverts of unhealthy products to children, labels designed to make calculating the sugar content unnecessarily confusing and over 56 different names for the same processed sugar. This means that we have to be food detectives and make a conscious effort to read packaging labels and workout how much sugar we are consuming in our diets.
Unfortunately, identifying how much sugar is hidden in our food is really only half the battle. In fact, it’s nowhere near half, it’s probably not even a quarter. The real challenge is to stop eating it. Some have achieved this with seemingly little difficulty. They just wake up one morning, decided to cut sugar from their diets and then live a life of annoying positivity, restful slumbers and rainbows radiating from their perfect glowing skin. The rest of us, however, do what I have done today. Vow to quit sugar; proudly announce this to everyone we know; smugly eat eggs for breakfast; cycle to work with a self-congratulatory smile; and then have a piece of cake at coffee morning because it would be rude to say no, right? Temptation greats us at every snack, meal and social event, which essentially means you have to resist for every second of the day. I cannot figure out how people have manage to go from eating copious amounts of biscuits and chocolate one day, to eating avocado toast and sweet potato brownies the next. I have tried on countless occasions to remove sugar from my diet and I’ve failed every time. I’ve made the sweet potato brownies and refined sugar-free cakes, ordered the avocado toast instead of the maple syrup waffles and even successfully given up chocolate for a whole week. But despite my efforts I still find myself with the inability to resist sugary foods, happy to skip meals to gorge on cake and getting through tubs of hot chocolate at an alarming rate. I am still a sugar addict who is very much off the wagon. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen the wagon, never mind be on it. Now, I’m aware that it is dangerous to call sugar dependency, an ‘addiction’, as it removes agency and personal responsibility, but, psychologically, it really does feel like one.
So where do we go from here? It’s a simple problem that is causing our species a hell of a lot of problems. Sweet tastes signal that the food has a high calorie content, stimulating pleasure and reward centres in our brain. We are literally hard-wired to enjoy sugar more than other foods. As of right now, I have no real solution and, from working in the Nutrition and Behaviour lab at Bristol, I’m not sure anyone else does either.
I’m going to give myself until Christmas to figure our how to get on and, most importantly, stay on the sugar-free wagon. I’ll make the bold and, probably unrealistic, aim of permanently changing my diet by cutting down to the recommended daily allowance of 25g (or 6 teaspoons). Hopefully I’ll release part two of this blog as an ex-sugar addict with some advice on how to really tackle the problem. I don’t really have a game plan on how to do this, it’ll be trial and error I guess. All I know is that to really alter a lifetime of habit, psychological changes need to occur. Saying this, it’s more than likely that by the time Christmas comes around I’ll be scoffing mince pies and denying that I ever pledged to do this. But, in the name of food blogging (which I think we all agree is an art in it’s most esteemed form), I’m going to be selfless and give it a go. Just kidding, I’m mainly doing this for personal gain because I’m a selfish human but hopefully I’ll figure out some things that might be helpful to others who want to kick their addiction.
This recipe is by the wonderful, tahini-fiend Miss Ellie Milone for our three-course Pumpkin Rescue Halloween dinner (blog post on this to come next week!):
Pumpkin and butter bean hummus:
3 garlic cloves
1 bunch coriander (stalks removed)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons tahini
pince of chilli flakes
pinch of salt and pepper
3 tablespoons honey
- To make the pumpkin purée cut the pumpkin in half and scooping out the seeds (you should set these aside to make spiced pumpkin seeds) by roasting pumpkin for 40 mins. Once tender, scoop out the flesh and blend until smooth.
- Meanwhile cover the pumpkin seeds in olive oil, paprika and cumin and roast in the oven for about 15-20 mins, until crispy.
- For the hummus, blend all the ingredients together, seasoning to taste.
- Top with pumpkin seeds and fresh coriander to serve.