Getting the balance right with sugar

Judith Wills / 28 August 2015

We Brits love baking and Bake Off but we’re ignoring health advice on sugar. Can Jamie Oliver help us hit the sweet spot that balances both?

Apart from on my birthday earlier this month, when I treated myself to a smallish chocolate cake (and then threw half of it away having scraped off the buttercream and eaten it first) and then a short break on the Lleyn Peninsula in Wales, when we had the most delicious ice cream cornet – a salted caramel delight from a little café in Criccieth, oh, and the summer pudding I made because my brother was coming over for lunch and we had a glut of gigantic raspberries, blackcurrants and wild strawberries, I haven't eaten a lot of sweet stuff in some while.

But quite obviously, in the UK the message that sugar is probably the most likely culprit spearheading our obesity crisis is not getting through. Despite all the scare headlines about sugary foods and drinks, despite the fact that incidence of diabetes here has increased by a horrifying 60% in the last decade, and despite the fact that Jamie Oliver has recently jumped firmly on the anti-sugar bandwagon, demanding a tax on fizzy drinks – and losing his fat gut as well, both prudent moves, little changes.

Read Jamie Oliver's top foods to live to 100

Nor is it likely to, as long as we remain a nation glued to our sofas to watch the TV every time Bake Off is on. What a star that programme is, managing to attract record viewing numbers when all around them is nothing but an absolute ocean of media comment criticising the very thought of eating a cake crumb or a grain of sugar, let alone baking a whole batch of madeleines.

I just can't see a major sugar, and therefore obesity, reduction happening anytime soon, or at least just as long as skinny Mary “I eat cake” Berry is on our screens. Cake fans everywhere are convincing themselves that sponge makes you slim – well it must do, just look at Mary!

Read our interview with the Queen of Cakes, Mary Berry

Even Jamie can't bring himself to ditch the cake entirely. Just last week, he said, “Eating cake is important. Nutritionally, no – but psychologically and culturally.”

So where does that leave the UK population? Let them eat cake. Just not too much, not too often. And never, ever, with a fizzy drink unless it's Champagne, of course, which, as everyone needs to know, is low in sugar.

Even if, as the Americans have apparently done*, we do manage to reduce our calorie and sugar intake, that doesn't mean we will ever achieve a permanent healthy weight. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health** in July found that once you're truly fat, you have only a one in 210 chance for men and one in 124 chance for women of attaining that goal.

Now if Jamie and his piece of important cake can be the team to reverse that little statistic, he's going to be Sir Jamie before you can say Everyday Super Food (the title of his low-sugar, healthy eating cookbook).

Meanwhile, the good news. Today we can eat butter and lard with abandon as, I can definitely vouch, there have been 734 'butter and lard are good for us' stories in the media this week and only 722 trying to convince us they're still the bad guys.

As long as butter is best, there's hope for us all, I say, no matter what the diet doom-mongers may predict.

* United State Department of Agriculture; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; University of North Carolina food research program.

** Funded by the National Institute for Health Research UK and researched at Kings College London.

Judith's homegrown summer vegetables

Ate last night:

Having a glut of tomatoes and courgettes as well as the soft fruit, and having grown aubergines this season for the first time in many years, as well as having our own onions and  (that's all our own stuff in the bowl and yes, I know I'm annoying), it seemed like a good idea to do some kind of veggie dish based on a ratatouille, but at this time of year it's nice to do a more summery version. I also used our large mild chillies for a hint of a kick, instead of sweet peppers as – believe it or not – I don't have any!

So I just chopped the vegetables up, tossed the pieces in olive oil, seasoned them and put them in a large roasting tin with loads of garlic cloves (skin on, and get new season's garlic if you can, it's perfect for roasting), very lightly bashed, and roasted them at 190C for 25 minutes until they were lightly tinged with brown, then sprinkled over smoked paprika, ground cumin and coriander and a little more seasoning, stirred things about a bit and returned the tin to the oven for about 20 minutes more, until everything was tender. 

I let the vegetables cool a little then spooned over a mixture of very good olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar, topping with plenty of fresh basil leaves (also our own!) and a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts (I had to buy those). You could grate over some hard cheese if you like, for extra protein, or dab on some French goat's cheese which would also be nice.

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