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A war against the white stuff

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It keeps us going when we’ve had another sleepless night with the kids. It’s a treat after a torturous day at work. It gives us a buzz when we’re out socialising. We think we’ve got it under control but we can’t seem to manage more than a day without it.

The white stuff in question is not cocaine, but something more addictive. It’s been surreptitiously force-fed to us our entire lives, resulting in a nation of addicts. Deaths from this addiction far outnumber deaths from other drugs, due to the complications of obesity and diabetes. Yet we continue to allow its presence in almost all food products, including our children’s.

From its origins in sugar cane stalks, to the 19th-century slave trade, the sugar industry is as powerful as the tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical industries once were. Which explains why no legislation has yet managed to reverse this contamination of our food.

So why my sudden interest?

When was the last time you questioned a patient with a mood disorder about their sugar consumption?

Because I felt I had to stick to at least one of my new year’s resolutions. But I didn’t appreciate just how difficult this would be. You see, sugar is everywhere and in everything. Children’s yoghurt has 12g of sugar. Even savoury food products contain it. A can of tomatoes has 16g, a tin of soup 20g.

Our tastebuds have become so accustomed to added sugar that we would reject our pasta sauces and ketchups if they didn’t have it. But even more disturbing is its unfettered addition to children’s food products. We are raising a population hooked on sugary drinks, cereals and ‘healthy’ snacks. So it was disappointing to read recent advice from Public Health England advising parents to stick to 100-calorie snacks for their children, implying all calories are equal. I would prefer my kids to snack on a 200-calorie bag of mixed nuts than a 100-calorie cereal bar laden with sugar.

Aside from diabetogenesis, sugar also has a negative impact on mental health. The continual spikes in blood sugar not only cause insulin resistance, but also lead to mood swings, depression and a worsening of menopausal symptoms. But when was the last time you questioned a patient with a mood disorder about their sugar consumption?

I guess you could call me an evangelist. Ever since I kicked my sugar habit, I have had a profound sense of calm and haven’t once shouted at the kids (another resolution). And the really encouraging news is that after a week, you stop craving it. Although reception is littered with post-Christmas chocolates, you stop viewing them as tempting treats and see them for what they are: a highly addictive foodstuff with zero nutritional value, linked with both mental and physical ill health.

So, in the battle against drugs, when are we going to tackle this one? When will the medical profession declare contaminating children’s food with sugar contravenes the GMC requirement to safeguard vulnerable patients? Until we exert our influence, the sugar industry will always place profits before health. It’s time GPs declared war on the white stuff.

When was the last time you asked a patient with a mood disorder about their sugar intake?

‘Medicine is missing the bigger picture’ – Big Interview with Dr Ranjan Chatterjee

Dr Shaba Nabi is a GP trainer in Bristol