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Jamie Oliver needs to know he's not our sugar daddy

By Fionola Meredith

Published 11/09/2015

Jamie Oliver
Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver is not Jesus, but try telling him that. The superstar cook's latest paternalistic crusade is against the evil white stuff. No, not cocaine. Colombian nose-candy is practically baby-food compared to the new class A killer drug of the masses. We're talking about sugar here. This is the devil substance that Jamie wants to protect us from, so we don't get fat and toothless and sick and keel over before we're 50. To that end, he's made a film for Channel 4, Jamie's Sugar Rush, with rotten teeth extracted and foot amputations and Jamie looking on with a saintly tear glittering in his eye. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

What's Oliver's answer to all this helpless misery? Why, a tax on sugary drinks, of course. Slap a 20p levy on every litre bottle of Coke. Bish-bash-bosh, everything's pukka! (Or whatever curious personal patois Jamie is using these days.) Obesity epidemic sorted, and the nation gets to keep its teeth.

In fairness to St James of Essex, he's not the only one screaming madly about sugar and labelling it the source of all our health troubles. It's become quite the fashionable thing to do. There's also a clatter of indistinguishable willowy young women with perfect skin, several of them former models, who want you to buy their books rejecting the "empty calories" of sugar and other deliciously dirty stuff and urging you to embrace something virtuous called "clean eating". I don't know or care what this is, but I think it probably involves raw kale.

Former Miss World, the Irish ex-model turned, er, nutritionist, Rosanna Davison, recently got in trouble for suggesting that gluten - that's the stuff that makes bread taste nice, and without which it resembles a cardboard cake - is "responsible for a huge range of medical conditions from autism spectrum disorders to schizophrenia to arthritis". After a number of real scientists informed her that this was dangerous nonsense, the author of Eat Yourself Beautiful rowed back and said she didn't mean it. Never mind. I imagine Davison's book will continue to sell like, well, hot-cakes (or whatever joyless equivalent she recommends), as will Jamie's new semi-spiritual bible of good living, Everyday Superfood.

After all, there's loads of money in this lark, and while Jamie never strikes me as the sharpest knife in the drawer, he's clearly an astute businessman. His previous book, Comfort Food, was packed with super-sweet recipes, including one for a chocolate cake with half a kilo of sugar in it. Now the caring chef is extolling the virtues of cottage cheese and slapping extra charges on the fizzy drinks in his restaurants. Ah, doesn't it make you feel loved?

Let's get real. All this hysteria about ordinary food substances is borderline pathological. Sugar is not toxic. It's not a poison. It's just a way to make your rhubarb crumble taste good. (As for gluten, people have been eating bread made with wheat for millennia without their guts or minds coming to any noticeable harm.) For sure, an excess of sugar is bad for your health. But let's get it in proportion. Oral health has actually got a lot better since the 70s. And when it comes to high obesity rates - which, by the way, are not shooting up, but have stayed at much the same level for the last 10 years - sugar consumption is only one part of a much more complex picture, which includes sedentary lifestyles, whopping portion sizes, reliance on ready meals and skipping breakfast.

Cutting back on sugar is not a magic bullet that will stop us porking up or getting diabetes. In fact, the role of sugar in the development of obesity and insulin resistance has not yet been proven. So let's deal in hard evidence, not simplistic emotion-laden manifestos splattered with Jamie's tears.

By all means, educate and inform people about potential health problems associated with diet. After that, leave us alone to make our own decisions. We're not kids or stupid dupes of a cackling food industry. We can read the labels telling us how much sugar a product contains. We don't need preachy models or crusading chefs weighing in our behalf. It's not their job to save us from ourselves.

So butt out, Jamie, and go eat a cottage-cheese and kale patty or something. Kick back with a glass of unsweetened lemonade. None of this is any of your business. You are absolved of all responsibility, my son.

Belfast Telegraph

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