17 January 2008

Sweet Tooth

I have a problem with sugar. I'm addicted to it. I don't drink alcohol much and it's usually wine, I smoke cigarettes very occasionally, I love to cook and eat healthy food, I practice yoga regularly, I never drink coffee or sodas and instead all day long, I drink water and green tea (without sugar of course) and yet, almost every day, I have to have my hands on something sweet, since I'm a child. My teeth and I share the history of that relationship with sugar. And now I have to stop. I think this addiction (not mine, in general) should be acknowledged as a wide public concern. The health problems related to sugar consumption in western society are known and becoming more and more serious (the main ones are tooth-decay, itself being an underestimated major health risk as a whole, diabetes, and obesity). Sugar has started to be used more prominently in cooking in the 18th century as it became widely popular. Today, there's hardly any refined food that doesn't contain massive amount of it. Just take a look at some of your stuff in your kitchen cupboard, even the salty stuff. You don't need to get your daily fix of candies to get the dose. Which is why people are so hooked up on refined food actually.
In his book Anticancer, the doctor David Servan-Schreiber shows that in 1850, a westerner would consume 10 kg of sugar per year, in 1920, it would be 30 kg and in 2000, it would be 70 kg. In this essay, he establishes a relationship between refined sugar consumption and cancer, as cancerous cells "feed" on sugar.
As I'm thinking about all this, an article I read some time ago comes back to mind. The writer Nick Tosches wrote last year for Vanity Fair a wonderful article, "If You Knew Sushi", taking a glance at the recent popularity of sushi in America. I had never made the connection he made but it makes a lot of sense:
"America is addicted to sugar, but it seeks increasingly to veil its addiction. Power Bars. Sounds healthy. Main ingredient: fructose syrup. Almost 25 percent sugar. The guy, Brian Maxwell, who got rich selling these things, selling sugar as nutrition, swore by them and croaked at the age of 51. Eat a Power Bar and nobody gives a glance. Run up a bag of dope and people look at you funny. I don't get it. How about a nice, large Tazo Chai Frappuccino Blended Crème from Starbucks? Sounds healthy—I mean, after all, chai—and classy too: crème? Sugar content: 17 teaspoons.
A killer sugar addiction, a preoccupation with health, no matter how misguided, and pretensions, or delusions, of worldly sophistication. Sushi perfectly satisfies them all.
In a nation that never ate much fresh fish, it's interesting that eel sushi is so very popular. I mean, from fish sticks and Filet-o-Fish sandwiches to conger eels? "Mommy, Mommy, I want eels, I want eels." This can't be understood other than in light of the fact that the sauce, anago no tsume, used in confecting eel sushi is a syrupy reduction made with table sugar, sake, soy sauce, and the sweet wine called mirin, and that during this reduction caramelizing causes the browning sugar to grow in mass through the formation of fructose and glucose. [...]
As for the other types of sushi, they are all made with rice to which both table sugar and sweet rice vinegar have been added. Gari, the pickled ginger served with sushi, is also made with rice vinegar and table sugar. If it's cobalt pink rather than pale rose in color, it has been treated with a chemical bath of dye and extra sweetening agents."

And just so you know, if you like your tomato-sauce pasta and your pizza so much, be aware that most of time, the acidity of the tomato has to be compensated by... sugar, which is what makes the sauce so good of course (you can replace it by bicarbonate if you want). And the bread we eat from the bakery,.. also another issue..., is a lot of time filled with sugar even though it's not even a sweet bread.
So there you go, the sweet tooth hides in everyone of us.
But if it's harder to track the sugar in the common savoury stuff we eat, I should be able to get rid of the more obvious stuff.
So I categorized (I like to categorize) sweet food in 7 groups - with levels of difficulty on how to get rid of it to help me get aware of what are the things I really can't do without.
The 3 easiest groups to get rid of by far - for me - are 7. snacks, whether sweet or - falsely - salty (because they're so junk), 6. refined/frozen desserts (because they're not so good, except some recently discovered soya-based creams, not too sweet for once), and 5. desserts in restaurants (fairly easy to get over them, because unless the restaurant is really really good, they tend to always be disappointing),
The other 4 groups are trickier: 4. "pâtisseries" and "viennoiseries" (cakes and croissants from the bakery - the fact that bakeries tend to be of lower and lower quality in France helps but what do you do when you pass by Ladurée and you see that pistachio macaroon waiting for you or when your darling comes back on Sunday morning with freshly baked croissants?) 3. candies and toffees (they are so junker than all the other junk but the repetitive / compulsive action in the eating action is so rewarding somehow), 2. cookies (extra tricky because some industrially-made cookies are amazingly good: I get instant gratification for instance with the "petit beurre" that is topped with a milk nut chocolate bar and I even get to have 12 of them in one pack!), 1. homemade cakes and cookies (by my mum, my friends and myself - I am tempted often and this is where I can never resist temptation - at least, I try to avoid cooking them even though it's the funniest stuff to cook).
addendum: breakfast cereals that literally make my day are just impossible to take out of my diet but I notice that some of them are swamped in sugar (if you ditch the Kellog's line at least, that's a better step). Oh and of course ice-creams in the summer are quintessential (but I do love naturally the ones where the maker cares more for flavor than for sugar)...

I tried to stop my compulsive behavior before, but I failed many times. If you want to withdraw effectively from a drug, the best way is to stop taking even the smallest amount of it for the rest of your life. But sugar is not like the other drugs, if you're addicted to tobacco - it's easy to identify what you have to do. But sugar is everywhere, in almost everything we eat and comes hidden in hundreds of different shapes and even behind our best friends, like honey or fruits. And so as you start the day innocently with a freshly mixed fruits juice, the body sends you the signal: "fructose is a good start, now where's the real stuff?"

Labels: , , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?