Smoking, alcohol - is sugar the next thing we need to be saved from?

When I started putting cream in my coffee this week, despite my constant whining that I need to lose some weight, my husband picked that I was once again off in fad-diet land.

He was right, but only to an extent. This latest diet iteration is more than just a fad: more than the bland-food diet; the no-carbs diet; the frankly impossible eat-only-when-naked-and-standing-on-one-foot diet. All of which worked - if by "worked" you mean lost a bit of weight while turning into a cranky, food-obsessed bore. (A bore whose resolve ultimately broke when her emotions finally took control on exposure to the siren call of a Milky Bar.)

No, this latest diet is easy to figure out, if heinously difficult to stick to. If the latest data is to be believed, and I think it is, giving up sugar is as important to your long-term prospects as ditching the fags, and much harder.

To wit: I was attracted to the book Sweet Poison: Why sugar makes us so fat for one simple reason - because it featured a picture of a frosted doughnut on the cover. Inside I found a litany of accusations against sugar, but more specifically against high-fructose corn syrup.


That's not the fructose naturally found in fruit, but the stuff made by chemically converting corn syrup. It's now laced through almost all modern foods, even those that don't appear to fit into the sweets aisle, such as breads, soups and sauces.

Cigarette smoking, legal but frowned on, gets heaped with regulation and moral tut-tutting when in fact corn syrup, which is an absolute negative to your body and exists only to save food manufacturers the cost of actual sugar, is omnipresent. Obesity, diabetes, all sorts of cancers, clogged arteries, even dementia, according to author David Gillespie, are the results of a leap in fructose consumption.

Now comes the news that UCLA researchers have found that bingeing on sugar for just six weeks can make you "dumber": disrupt memory and learning, for example, and play havoc with your synaptic activity. It was also reported last month that the product can alter a person's metabolism and his or her liver.

The news won't be greeted favourably by the corn syrup industry, which has just been told by the US Food & Drug Administration that no, it isn't allowed to rename the syrup "corn sugar" to make it more palatable to the general public.

Corn growers continue to be heavily subsidised by that nation's government to grow their crops, over half of which now go to make the sugar substitute. Free trade deals have allowed the US-made high-fructose corn syrup to elbow its way into markets such as Mexico where, until recently, cane sugar was still the main sweetener.

I'm picking that one day soon any sort of refined sugar will be included in the category of health evils now occupied by smoking and, to a lesser extent, alcohol.

But I wonder whether it will be in my lifetime, or my kids'. As I wandered around the excellent Ambury farm day this weekend and saw numerous children sucking on large bottles of fizzy, I couldn't help thinking that if we are going to constantly lean on the government to save us from the tobacco lobby, we may as well ask them to save us from our gluttonous, sugar-loving selves as well.

* Illustration by Anna Crichton: