So the long awaited and campaigned for sugar tax has come to pass and we all rejoice. But is it enough, or is it just sugar coating the problem? I have been on a voyage of discovery about sugar content over the last few months having inadvertently begun weaning myself off the stuff at about the same time as a Sugar Smart leaflet came home from my daughter’s school. And when you understand the scale of the problem, a sugar tax is really nothing more than a glorified PR stunt – the fact that they have linked it to improving PE in schools just proves that point! That is not that as easy as it sounds and will take more than a few quid!
Yes, it is absolutely right to hit the manufacturers where it hurts, of course it is. Their products are addictive, and are supported by multi million pound marketing campaigns – a luxury that cigarette manufacturers remember wistfully. But they need to be called to account in a far more tangible and direct way.
We all know that sugary fizzy drinks are bad for us, and some of us choose to ignore that fact, and some of us continue to consume them occasionally, as a treat, with a trace of guilt as we do so. But do we really understand how bad they are for us? Do we really understand which are the worst offenders? And is there anything we can do to wean ourselves off the stuff. And ultimately who is responsible and what can they do about it?
In my humble experience the answer to the first two questions is definitely no. Despite improved product labelling we have absolutely no idea what we are putting into our bodies. We can’t compare like with like easily and we go for the brands we ‘trust’ and the taste we like regardless of traffic lights and packaging.
The recommended adult daily intake of sugar is 30g – that is 6 teaspoons – even less for children. I can tell you, even with a responsible eye, it is almost impossible to hit that target. So it may interest you, although not surprise you, to know that in a single can of Coca Cola there are 35g of sugar! Wham! Daily intake smashed before you’ve even dunked a Rich Tea into your sugar free cuppa.
More shocking than that I think, are the drinks out there that present themselves as a healthier alternative. The flavoured waters, the fruit juice based drinks, the ‘natural products’. I picked up a bottle of This Juicy Water the other day – one of my favourites. It sounds good for you doesn’t it – and proudly boasts, spring water, pure squeezed juices, never from concentrate, no artificial sweeteners, no added flavourings or preservatives, not to mention donating 10% of its profits to feeding hungry people around the world. All sounds very lovely. But here comes the punchline – that 420ml bottle of drink contains 37g of sugar! That is more than an average can of Coke! Not so worthy now! And the list of offenders is long. I have them all in my databank and I will be delighted to share them. I decided to inform myself, and have compiled a rather lovely spreadsheet!
And to me it’s all about information. If we have the right information, we can make an informed choice, and at the moment, marketing and advertising is misleading us, bamboozling us, throwing up smoke screens and putting us off the scent. And that is wrong! So for me a sugar tax just isn’t enough. To me manufacturers and supermarkets should be banned from offering any sort of promotions involving high sugar products, be they fizzy drinks, chocolates, sweets or even children’s cereal. (Don’t get me started on those). Encouraging people to consume things that are patently bad for them is crazy, immoral and should be illegal. As a mother of a 6 year old I can tell you, with all the best parenting intentions in the world, you simply cannot protect them from such powerful outside influences. To bring up a healthier less sugar addicted generation, we surely need those influences quietened.
Large retailers need to start taking a responsible position or be forced to do so. Who needs 12 cans of Coca Cola in their house, let alone 24 of them for the price of 12. Please don’t encourage us to buy this stuff in such quantities. Our kids have no idea not to trust you yet. The irony of Tesco’s chosen charity never ceases to escape me – as a supporter of the British Diabetic Association to the tune of a few million a year – would they rather not be putting into place more responsible retailing practices rather than salving their consciences in such a distasteful and PR leaching way.
As for the question of whether you can wean yourself of sugary drinks, well then I have to say that rather surprisingly the answer is yes. I have a terrible sweet tooth and have been saying for almost 40 years that I just cannot drink water on its own. I have also always refused to drink anything containing artificial sweeteners, so it’s been full fat Coke, full fat squash, and Slimline is for wimps my entire adult life. Then one day a nurse looked me in the eye and told me I needed to drink more water. She handed me a cup of this unfamiliar stuff and I drank it and that was that. I have never looked back. I haven’t touched squash since, and I don’t even want a sugary fizzy drink. Having stuck to water I now find those drinks sickly sweet and unpalatable. And trust me, if I can do it anybody can do it!