Sugaring the pill

So Jamie Oliver has launched a campaign to tax sugary drinks, complete with shock tactics like the pile of amputated legs lost every week in the UK to type 2 diabetes. OK, so the legs were fake, but the statistics aren’t. Refined sugar is up there with nicotine and alcohol: just as lovely in moderation, just as addictive, and just as deadly in excess.
But this isn’t just another rant about the evils of sugar. We can’t help the way we respond to it; we’re hard-wired to recognise sweetness in the things we eat, and to value it as a source of energy. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t have survived this long. The problem is that we’ve found clever ways to refine and concentrate sweetness, and then combine it with that other wonderful and essential nutrient: fat. They never occur together in nature, and we simply can’t process the results very well. We’re not designed to eat cake.
How about some solutions? And I don’t mean artificial sweeteners and low-fat biscuits. There are ways to help loosen the addiction; it doesn’t have to be all willpower and self-denial. It sounds counter-intuitive, but one thing that really helps is bitterness. Bitter-tasting herbs like dandelion, milk thistle or vervain stimulate the release of digestive juices. One effect of this is to even out highs and lows in your blood sugar, so you’re less likely to reach for the sweets or the chocolate between meals. It won’t stop you putting them in your mouth, but it will open up some space around the habit. It will give you choices; and that’s the first step towards change.
If you do have a sugar habit, the bitter taste will make you shudder at first, but I guarantee that within a week or two you won’t mind it at all, and you may even come to love it. It will wake up your digestion and your tastebuds, so that in time you’ll come to prefer more nuanced tastes, a wider palette of colours. And in the longer term, it will help keep your gut healthy and your liver functioning as it should.
It’s worth a try, surely? You might have quite a lot to lose…

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