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Sugar and its uninformed haters

As I write this, I am listening to two adolescents talking about their new found obsession with coconut flakes as substitute for sugar in cakes. Raised in a healthy environment, always bringing the darkest whole-wheat bread with chicken filet in my lunch box to primary school (petrifying the other white-bread-with-chocolate-sprinkles-kids), I am amazed by what size this current trend of healthy foods has taken. It seems that the latest generation is suddenly exaggeratedly interested in a healthy lifestyle and with the popularity of social media, everybody has insights in everyone’s obsessions with non-fat, non-gluten, non-dairy and non-sugar diets.
The latest attack of popular bloggers and health gurus seems to be pointed at the good old sugar industry. The candy and cookie section in the supermarket are suddenly becoming no-go zones. This while Sue Food, a store with the motto “Sweet Without Sugar”, seems to be getting more popular than ever. It is becoming a social desire to fit in with the new healthy food generation and thereby Sue Food could be considered the new Starbucks.

The fear of sugar has become one of Western culture’s newest interest: magazine covers give tips on sugarless diets, television shows are produced on sugarless meals/snacks and as mentioned before, sugar free stores are opened. However, as Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco, has argued before: people are uneducated on sugar and in what ways sugar can be dangerous.
Arie Klootwijk, a retired baker and sugar expert who worked for the famous Dutch Klootwijk bakers, has seen different ways in how people look at sugar: “When I was younger, sugar was very healthy. I remember my mother forcing me to put sugar on my strawberries because it was going to keep me from getting ill. However, nowadays it seems as though people are suddenly somehow convinced that sugar is bad.”

He adds: “They might be somewhat right and, in some cases, knowledgeable this time, but generally, the people suddenly switching up their diets are doing so because they know someone who did it as well and who magically lost 10 pounds. What they do not realize is that they are just as badly informed about sugar as they were when they thought sugar was healthy. Sugar itself is not the problem, the problem is people’s lack of knowledge when it comes to food and diets.”

Not only seems knowledge about the dangers of sugar to be missing, people are also unaware of sugar and its basic functions. Thus, trying to avoid sugar as much as possible is more of a “follow the crowd” movement: people themselves are often not informed about sugar, they just follow the trend.

In the United States, an average of 25000 deaths of American adults per year are caused by sugary drinks. This compared to the average of 10000 deaths caused by drunk drivers. Diana Vroegh, a nutritionist and owner of FitbyFood, which is a health centre in Schiedam that focusses on educating people on how to look at food, how to live a healthy life style and take good care of your body, tells me: “Almost any food, even chicken filet, contains sugar; you simply cannot escape consuming sugar.”

She continues: “Bloggers and so called ‘health gurus’ who claim they are eating ‘sugar free’ are often not aware that there is still a lot of sugar in the products they consume. Sugar itself is not bad: it gives you energy and thus, you need sugar in leading an active life. If you are planning on cutting sugar completely out of your diet, which is a challenge by itself, expect yourself to be sitting your couch all day. Living a healthy lifestyle does not and cannot equal a sugar free life.”

Karoline Kooijman, a nutrition and health student at Civas, has done research on the dangers of sugar. She tells me: “Excessive sugar consumption is what we call a ‘secret killer’. People are unaware of what sugar does to your body. Consuming sugar is insuperable; sugar is a carb and you cannot cut sugar completely out of your diet. However, people need to be seriously aware of what excessive sugar consumption does to your body. People consume sugar in astounding quantities.” She adds: “Consuming a lot of sugar can lead to being overweight, which in turn could lead to diabetes and heart deceases.”.

Wouter Adamse, a nutritionist and teacher at Kosmeoo Health, tells me: “People are on the right track when they start to pay attention to how much they consume sugar. In dieting, it is important to be knowledgeable on why you should eat something less and why you should eat more of something else. The central question that one must ask ‘why am I cutting this out of my diet?’, often people do not know the answer, which is problematic.”

As children, we want to know the ‘why’s’ of everything and now that the ‘why’-questions are more important than ever, we stop asking them. “Sugar is bad” simply does not qualify. In nutrition and dieting, the most important part is to be knowledgeable. Not only is knowledge about sugar vital to make people aware of the dangers that accompany the consumption of excessive amounts of sugar, it will also change how people see dieting at a whole; it should not be a trend that you follow, rather dieting must be based on knowledge. As long as you educate yourself on food and stay clear of eating “excessive” amounts of something, you should be fine.

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