Everyone loves sugar. And for good reason! Back in the paleolithic days, when food was scarce, you’d have had to gnaw through nearly a metre of chunky, fibrous sugar cane to get the same amount of energy you can now glug down via a single can of Coke. But apart from the fact that most of us aren’t chasing enough mammoths to need that kind of calorie hit any more, is there anything really that bad about our fondness for the sweet stuff? Or is it actually addictive and should we be quitting it entirely? Toothbrush at the ready: the truth might leave a sour taste.
First of all, it’s important to understand the distinction between “free” sugars – added to foods like sweets, cakes, biscuits, and fizzy drinks – and the sugar found naturally in milk, fruit and vegetables. “The intrinsic sugars naturally incorporated within the cellular structure of food, like the sugar found in whole fruit and vegetables, are released more slowly into the bloodstream,” says the nutritionist Lily Soutter. “This is also the case with milk sugars that come alongside a helping of protein and fat, which can keep you feeling fuller for longer. The recommendation for adults is that we cut back on ‘free’ sugars to just 5% of total energy intake, which equates to about 30g a day for adults.” That’s roughly seven teaspoons.