Niki Bezzant: Make sugar a treat

As with chocolate eggs at Easter, sugar should be only eaten as a special treat. Photo / Stephen Parker
As with chocolate eggs at Easter, sugar should be only eaten as a special treat. Photo / Stephen Parker

Last week I attended the launch of The Great New Zealand Baking Book. This is a treasury of recipes from New Zealand food writers and I'm proud to say three of my recipes are included.

My contributions are baking recipes that happen to be based on vegetables and fruit. They have no added sugar, unlike many baking recipes that claim to be sugar-free but are still packed with rice malt syrup or honey or coconut sugar.

Having no added sugar means the recipes taste less sweet than traditional baking. This is not to everyone's taste but it is something we can retrain our palates to enjoy. Over time, the less sweet food we eat, the less we crave sugar.

That doesn't mean I am anti-sugar.

It doesn't mean I never eat a sweet, home-baked treat or a piece of chocolate. Sweet things give us pleasure and pleasure is a vital part of life, as well as food. Treats make us happy. We just need to remember what treats are.

In the debate that has followed the release of the petition for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, I have been accused of trying to ban sugar.

This is not what I'm about and it's not what my fellow petitioners - all prominent public health organisations - have in mind, either. We're not trying to stop anyone from enjoying their favourite sweet biscuit or lolly or cake. Nor are we trying to stop anyone from choosing a sugary drink.

We are trying to get everyone thinking about making healthier choices when it comes to an everyday food - and for every day, sugary drinks are not a good idea.

These drinks need a rethink. They need to be repositioned as treats.

Just like the Easter eggs we indulged in last week, a sugary drink, whether it's a can of fizzy or an iced tea or a sports drink, should be a once-in-a-while indulgence, not a routine purchase.

That message goes double when it comes to kids. It breaks my heart to talk to dentist Rob Beaglehole.

He spends more time than he should removing decayed teeth from young children's mouths. Each year more than 5000 kids under 7 have a general anaesthetic to have teeth removed.

Kids having sweet drinks frequently is a major contributor to this completely avoidable situation, as it is to our sadly increasing rate of childhood obesity.

Sugary drinks are the No 1 source of sugar in the diets of Kiwi adolescents.

Wouldn't it be great if we could teach our kids - and model the behaviour to them - that sweet things are absolutely to be enjoyed, but moderately and mindfully, not inhaled daily with little thought?

Wouldn't it be great if the intense sweetness of a soft drink or a cake was considered rare and unusual, rather than commonplace?0

That's where I'd love us to get to.

Niki Bezzant is editor in chief of Healthy Food Guide.

- Herald on Sunday

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