grow it cook it preserve it eat it wendy pillar blog gardener grow your own in dorset

Climbing onto the sugar waggon - again! - October 2015

I've never given up smoking, but I imagine it's somewhat similar to giving up sugar. I get cravings for a week or so, then I start to feel good - livelier, sharper and more energetic than I have for ages. I think 'This is fantastic! I'm never going to eat sugar again!' Until I do. And sweet Jesus it tastes good! Just the one. And then I'm back eating cake and chocolate, baking puddings - not that I'm a binge eater, just a 'social' cake eater. But before long, my brain clouds over, I feel tired all the time, I get headaches, depression starts to set in. My body really doesn't love sugar, but I do. That is the problem.

 Giving up smoking is probably harder from a physical addiction point of view, but at least you have social pressure and medical technology on your side. No one's going to offer you a cigarette, and say 'just one won't hurt will it?' or 'it's a special occasion', and regard you as a miserable self-righteous git if you don't. Cigarettes are not advertised everywhere, on display at eye level in every shop you go into. There are no e-cakes, or chocolate patches. Shops don't waft the smell of cigarette smoke out into the street to tempt you. Everyone approves of giving up smoking. If you give up sugar you're a health nut, a kill joy. Anyone who is ill will tell you that nothing is more important than being healthy, and nothing makes you more miserable than being ill, but you're still a joyless sod for trying to stay healthy. Just this morning a meme on my Facebook timeline told me 'Good health is just the slowest possible rate at which you can die' and 'Health nuts are going to feel stupid one day, lying in hospital dying of nothing'.

 I love being creative in the kitchen, and I love baking. I make great cakes and pastries, but in a two-person household where the other person doesn't have a sweet tooth and is gluten-intolerant, baking is a really bad idea. I don't have the kind of iron will that will leave a cake sitting forgotten in a tin, or even in the freezer.

 It is not just processed sugar, the trendy demon of the moment, that affects me either. The food media is full of sugar substitutes, from honey to agave nectar, sucralose, xylitol and stevia, to date syrup. The word 'natural' seems to be a magic charm. Yet there's nothing unnatural about sucrose - it's concentrated, crystalised, bleached sugar cane or sugar beet juice. Agave nectar and its brethren are also highly processed, and ten times the price - it's all just marketing spin, as per usual. It may be decades of processed food that have made me so sugar-sensitive, but all sugar, natural and otherwise, will make me ill - honey, maple syrup, fruit concentrate, agave nectar and so on. Even the ones that don't actually raise your blood sugar set up the expectation of sugar in your brain and therefore mess up your hormones and insulin levels. Even large amounts of fruit will do it. Dried fruit is definitely out of bounds. Berries seem to be fine, and apples, but sweet fruit like peaches and plums will act as a sugar hit. As a grow-your-own nut with around 40 different species of fruit in the garden, that's a bit of an issue!

 I've been down this road, many times, before. I'm very good at finding my way around dietary restrictions to still get the same buzz. I gave up chocolate only to transfer my addiction to dried fruit. I found cake recipes with agave nectar and apple sauce, I make peach butter with no added sugar, that is still as sweet as syrup. The end result is always the same - allow a little sneaky sugar in, and pretty soon I'm back to my old ways and eating a chocolate bar at tea break! It's time to realise that there is actually no way around it, no magic solution, and this path leads not only to overweight but also most likely to type 2 diabetes and worse. More than that, it makes me feel rubbish on a daily basis, and stops me enjoying life. Opposite to conventional wisdom, joy comes from feeling alive and full of energy, not from porking a chocolate cake whenever you get the urge. So I am back on the sugar waggon. Who knows how long it will last - probably until the next time someone offers me a slice of cake. Just writing about cake brings on the urge to go into the kitchen and bake one. But hopefully, each time I fall off the waggon, I will get back on a little more readily. We'll see!

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