Last week it hit the news that Action On Sugar was calling for a ban on milkshakes that had an obscenely high amount of sugar. The Unicorn Freakshake on sale at Toby outlets was highlighted in particular due to it’s 39 – yes 39! – teaspoons of sugar per shake.
Whilst banning a treat that contains over six times the amount of sugar recommended for seven to 10-year-olds seems like a good idea, it of course prompted reactions along the lines of ‘nanny state telling us what to do’ amongst many. There will always be people who will deliberately do something rather than have someone else tell them they can’t. But is an outright ban a good idea anyway?
To ban or not to ban?
I believe there is a fundamental difference here in the approach required to many other foods. Firstly, I don’t agree with an outright ban (which may surprise you), but I do believe that menus with this type of item should be very clearly labelled. The news presentation is different to a standard menu presentation, for example. 163g of sugar on a menu is hard for someone to visualise (other than ‘a lot’), whereas 39 teaspoons is much easier. That’s why newspaper outlets use the latter to sell their story.
More importantly, whether or not you label a freakshake with all the information available, people know they’re having something unhealthy when they choose it. Admittedly, they might not realise just how unhealthy, but they’re not confusing it with a side salad. It’s a conscious decision to ‘have a treat’.
Unconscious vs conscious eating
In my opinion, it would be better to focus on those foods that are significantly more ambiguous. The foods that people eat because they’re labelled as diet foods, simply because they’re lower in fat. The foods that catch people out.
I know countless people who have gone on a diet so have stopped adding a spoon of sugar to their tea or coffee, oblivious that the low fat yoghurt they’ve started to include with their lunch (must be healthy!) contains 3 teaspoons of the stuff – a net gain of 2 teaspoons for the swap. And you all know where I stand on children’s cereals – if you want to get anything banned there’s plenty out there that should be. Over the course of a week’s breakfast, people give their kids a freakshake plus in terms of sugar, often without even realising it.
So yes, we need to label better and maybe even ban or tax certain foods, but we need to choose our targets carefully. Bigger isn’t always better. The road to obesity and all its associated health risks isn’t a single freakshake every now and again, it’s all the other meals in between, eaten without awareness until it’s too late.
You can find out more about how to make more informed sugar choices in The Realist’s Guide To Sugar Free