How important is it to know what you are consuming and why we produce the food we do at Treves & Hyde? These are the ramblings of a restaurateur who cares about what you eat.
What is the enemy, Sugar, Fat or both?
For years now, we have stumbled our way through dietary advice from ‘experts’ and government guidelines that time after time reminded us that we still don’t know what we should be eating and how to live on a balanced diet that is right for us as a species.
The truth is, what we have been told is good for us is regularly decided on by experts that take into consideration commercial markets and sometimes, little else. Even on occasion as will be demonstrated; by direction of said markets.
In this series of articles, we will look at some of the truths behind the misinformation that relate to food and the history behind them.
Before we go into detail and what is possibly the biggest worldwide scandal in the last 50 years, we need to address the main issue with our modern diet. It is really quite simple, but still is not made clear and as will become apparent there is an obvious reason why.
Modern man evolved to its current form roughly 300,000 years ago. We are genetically designed to be fast moving, intelligent hunter gatherers. We have evolved eating a wide variety of plants and occasional meats. About 10,000 years ago we discovered sugar (or as we should call them ‘soluble carbohydrates’ as will be explained in the next article; all carbohydrates are not equal and shouldn’t really be classed as one thing.) In this article we will present refined sugar, not naturally occurring sugars or other carbohydrates.
By the end of the medieval period, sugar was known across the developed world but was rare, hugely expensive and considered a ‘fine spice’. It was not until 300 years ago that it became readily available within the normal diet. To put this into context, nowadays we annually produce nearly 200 million metric tons per year, the sugar industry is now worth over $97 billion (According to BCC Research).
We are not genetically designed to consume large quantities of soluble carbohydrates, they cause spikes in the blood glucose and are the main cause of weight gain and a whole load of dietary illnesses. The glucose spike is an addictive feeling, we now eat sugar so much we subconsciously expect it, but hardly notice when it hits; it’s an addiction. To prove the point, just see what happens when you give sugar to a toddler for the first time.
Today, the NHS guidelines for daily intake of sugar is 5% of the calorie intake, or in other words 30g of sugar per day! Why would they recommend this? Our bodies do not require sugar at all, for 1000’s of years we did perfectly well without it. The real guidelines should be that if you want to be healthy, avoid it completely. We are now literally eating more than 100 times more sugar than we should every day.
The answer is quite clear, it is because of commercial pressure from big companies that base their products on sugar and have bottom lines that are driven by our addition to it. It was not that long ago that sugar was openly being promoted for its ‘health benefits’ we can all remember ‘a Mars a day, helps you work rest and play’. In the current market place things have moved on, the lies are just as big, if not bigger; they are just not as obvious.
So here is first scandal we will bring to light and possibly the biggest that relates to food in history: In 1958 an American biologist called Ancel Keys launched the Seven Country Study. His research was to explore the relationship between dietary pattern and coronary heart disease. He did a study of 13,000 middle aged men in the US, Europe and Japan, His conclusion was that populations that consumed large quantities of saturated fats had more heart disease than those eating grains, nuts, fish and vegetables. He chose particular communities that would confirm his hypothesis and avoided countries that would disprove it, such as France where heart disease was rare but the diet is high in saturated fats. Later studies of the same demographics proved that the link was not saturated fat, but sugar.
Keys was a hugely influential figure, after what was a flawed and misleading study that omitted all data that didn’t agree with his hypotheses, in 1961 he persuaded the American Heart Association (AHA) to publish his recommendations. They set out the guidelines that saturated fats and cholesterol are bad and should avoided claiming they were the primary cause of heart disease.
Keys became famous worldwide overnight, even making the cover of Time Magazine. Shortly after this, Kellogg’s launched high sugar cereals with the AHA sponsored seal of approval and became the staple choice for breakfast. We also saw the beginning of industrialised man-made replacement for saturated fats such as margarine, containing trans-fatty acids, a truly awful ingredient that we will cover in another article.
According to a review published in JAMA internal medicine in 2016 by Stanton Glantz, Professor of Medicine at University of California that followed historical analysis of correspondence to and from the SRF (Stands for Sugar Research Foundation, today known as The Sugar Association, funded by a group of companies that included Kellogg’s, Wrigley’s, Coca Cola and Pepsi) he uncovered that research carried out by Keys was funded by the group possibly as early as 1944.
Keys did have contacts with them, he first came to fame in WW2 when he developed the K ration (K for Keys) which was given to American troops which included sugar cubes, Wrigley’s gum, candy, chocolate and famously Coca Cola for 5c anywhere in the world where there were American troops.
The Sugar Association has been continually manipulating scientific studies since Keys. Marion Nestle (no relation to the company), a Professor of Nutrition and Public Health at New York University wrote an editorial accompanying the paper by Glantz in which she said the documents provided “compelling evidence” that the sugar industry had initiated research “to expressively exonerate sugar as a major risk factor for coronary heart disease”. This has been going on for 5 decades. It was easy to hide, up until 1984 scientific research was under no obligation to disclose its funding sources or influence.
The documents discovered by Glantz show that in 1964 John Hickson, a top sugar industry executive discussed a plan with others in the industry to shift public opinion “though our research and information and legislative programs”. Hickson paid Harvard researchers and directed them throughout. The communications show the researchers liaising throughout their project and had their findings approved by Hickson before being published. One of the researchers paid was D. Mark Hegsten, who went on to become the head of nutrition at the United States Department of Agriculture where in 1977 he helped draft the governments dietary guidelines.
Even before Keys published there were arguments to his hypothesis, John Yudkin the founding Professor of the Department of Nutrition at Queens College London had an opposing hypothesis. He pointed to added sugars as the primary cause as early as 1957. He was heavily criticised by Keys for his findings.
Prophetically, Yudkin also wrote about the dangers of high-fructose corn syrup and smoking.
His 1972 book ‘Pure, White and Deadly’ he specifically detailed that sugar consumption was the cause of obesity, diabetes and heart attacks.
So, what is now clear is that sugar is the enemy, not saturated fat. As mentioned, we are genetically designed to eat a wide variety of plants and occasional meats, it would be unlikely that we would have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to naturally survive on a food source that is bad for us. If you think about it, no animal on the planet has issues with weight, unless they are in the unfortunate position of having their natural food source manipulated by us. However, what we do now know is that consuming refined, man-made ingredients can cause us problems.
The whole low-fat theory has now been completely disproved. Our government guidelines still state that cholesterol rich foods are to be avoided. The technical advice is that consuming cholesterol rich foods such as eggs would raise your LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein). The opposite is true, saturated fats are now scientifically proven to raise the safe HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) and dietary cholesterol is essential for brain health and memory formation, it is also how your skin converts sunlight into vitamin D.
It is now clear that cholesterol rich foods and saturated fats should not be restricted and should form part of a balanced diet. Why has current advice given to us by our government not taken on board the overwhelming evidence opposing their recommendations? This is not the only thing they tell us that is completely wrong, more will be covered later in the series.
There are some acclaimed scientists around defending the work set out by Keys, this article is not to demonise him, some of what he said made sense. He was an advocate for the Mediterranean diet and promoted the consumption of fish, vegetables and regular exercise. Unfortunately, that was not picked up on as it couldn’t be commercialised. The point here is that what he said about saturated fats was wrong and has led to massive commercialisation of high sugar and low-fat processed products. It appears he believed so wholeheartedly that his theory was right without understanding the role sugar had, possibly because he was incised to do so, or just he didn’t believe it. Now further research has proven the role sugar plays without doubt. We do know that he promoted consumption of sugar, as demonstrated in his K Rations. Thomas Midgley also believed he was doing good when he added lead to petrol to stop engines making a knocking noise and CFCs in fridges for their thermal properties. Possibly, these scientists should not be considered as bad people, just theorists with limited information that concluded inaccurate results.
The enemies here are the companies that profit from the misinformation, this is still going on today, why are they not being held to account? They are in the same class as the tobacco industry and should be treated as such.
It’s our human nature that makes us so quickly jump on bandwagons without questioning the logic behind things. Also, part of our human nature is to jump from one extreme to another. Yes, it is clear that saturated fats are not bad for us and should form part of our balanced diet, that doesn’t mean we should consume them as a major form of nutrition. It’s highly unlikely we evolved basing our diets on eating fatty meat every day. We can see that clearly by observing the remaining groups of humans that sustain themselves through hunter-gathering. We should consider this before embarking on hard-core specialist diets.
It is difficult to comprehend that everything in this article is based on published information. What makes it worse is that this is not even new information, the facts detailed here have been known for a few years now but our supermarkets (they have a lot of blame) have not changed direction hardly at all. Government guidelines are all saying reduce some sugar, this is reflected in industry by advertising ‘reduced sugar’ options. They have been focusing on fizzy drinks and snacks, ignoring ‘healthy’ alternatives some of which have twice the sugar content and still promoting low-fat lines as healthy. These highly processed products do not currently (wake up Government!) need to label how much sugars are being added to their products. They simply combine them under one heading ‘carbohydrate of which sugars’ so it includes the natural sugars found in the prime ingredients and other carbohydrates.
Here are some scary examples of sugar content in perceived ‘healthy options’:
Costa Red Berry Cooler (610ml): 96 grams (They advertise this as ‘lose yourself’, possibly true!).
Caffe Nero Fruit Booster (655ml): 68 grams (advertised as ‘vegan’, ‘gluten free’ and ‘dairy free’).
Pret a Manger Beet Beautiful (400ml): 48g grams.
(source: The Daily Telegraph)
Eat Natural Cranberry, Macadamia and Dark Chocolate: 18 grams (gluten free and ‘nothing dodgy for Veggies’, well clearly that’s not true!).
One of the worse culprits in the ‘fake’ healthy food, low fat, high sugar businesses with massive marketing budgets is the yoghurt industry. We, the UK spend £17 billion on yoghurt and fromage frais every year (according to consumer research group Kantar Worldpanel). Brand leader Muller, about 15% or the market or just over £25 million per year contains on average 21g and 30g per portion, most of which is made up of added refined sugar. One pot is over 50% of the NHS daily consumption guidelines, which we have already demonstrated is wrong.
To make them worse they are not only processed but pasteurised, we will go into how important the gut biome is later in the series, but for now the best recommendation we can give is to avoid the flavoured pasteurised versions at all costs, go for plain, live, full-fat yogurt and add your own flavouring such as honey, maple syrup (natural) or fruit.
As all of these articles will show, there is no substitute for real food. Fresh ingredients, dishes made with good fats, nothing processed, nothing refined. Sometimes to skip a meal and instead have a low-fat, high sugar snack is going to do you more harm than good. With marketing strategies convincing us that falsely they mean us well, it is hard to know who to trust. A simple rule is that if it comes from nature and your ancestors would recognise it as food, it’s probably good to have in your diet. If you took it out of a packet, contains added sugar and it was produced in a factory; maybe think twice.
In this article we wrote about refined added sugars, not naturally occurring sugars. We will cover soluble carbohydrates with other carbohydrates in the next article. Sugar is now an integral part of our diet, as mentioned earlier it is highly addictive and so should be considered the same as a drug. The British Journal of Sports Medicine wrote that it is so addictive it could act as a gateway to other addictive substances. Just like cocaine and opium it is refined from plants go yield pure white crystals, a process that they say “significantly adds to its addictive properties”.
For that reason, it’s a bit extreme to go from eating sugar in nearly everything we consume, to no sugar consumption at all. As things are today, that would be nearly impossible and would be highly unpopular.
Who knows, maybe in the future we will see processed sugary snacks with the same kind of warning signs as cigarette packets, considering the damage they do; they should have.
In the meantime, at Treves Restaurant we do not use refined sugars at all in our dishes, only natural alternatives and they are not added to anything other than desserts. Being healthy and caring about your ingredients should not mean compromising on flavour, our belief is that you shouldn’t notice you are making the right choice.
For those that choose to have sugar, there are some sachets of unrefined sugars available for your coffee, we would never impose on your right to decide for yourself.