Thursday, 23 February 2017

Fat Thursday - a blast against sugar

Other Catholic countries have their Mardi Gras - literally 'fat Tuesday'. In Poland we have 'fat Thursday', tłusty czwartek, four days earlier. Note the 'fat' - not 'sweet'. Yet it's sugar that predominates. Full-page ads in the media suggest consumers blow out on eight-packs of sugar-coated doughnuts on this day, while office kitchens are groaning with plates piled high with patisserie.

Below. queue of people, mostly young, outside the Dunkin' Donut on ul. Świętokrzyska. It's half past five in the evening, people on their way home from work.

Five days before the start of Lent (this year Ash Wednesday falls on 1 March), Polish tradition expects cake-eating on a gargantuan scale. And what's left over gets eaten on ostatki - literally, 'the lasts', Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras.

Time to reflect on the role of sugar in our diets.

We don't need sugar at all. The evolutionary only role played by sugar is to encourage fruit-eating in the summer and autumn to top up with vitamins that stave off scurvy in winter. For sugar is an addictive drug, and in large amounts a toxin; increasing scientific evidence suggests that it's sugars, not fats, that are the root cause of the obesity epidemic in the rich and developing worlds.

We cannot live without salt - we need it to regulate perspiration, six to eight grams a day, increased in hot climates where bodily fluid loss can be dangerous.

But we can totally live without sugar, as our ancestors did for millennia. Until the invention of industrial sugar manufacture and processing, sugar came only directly from plants, sending those signals to the brain to eat more because it tastes good.

Once business realised how much profit there was in sugar, an entire industry was born, at first on the backs of the slaves shipped to the New World from Africa. Sugar today goes into much of the processed food we eat and beverages we drink - and the results can be seen waddling down the street in countries rich and middle-income.

Sugar breaks down to form fatty deposits around our internal organs, fat that's incredibly difficult to shift even with sustained daily exercise. It rots our teeth. It brings on type 2 diabetes, and an increasing body of scientific evidence links sugar consumption with a decrease in brain mass and dementia.

Society finds alcohol consumption the subject of humour; but sugar consumption does not have any of the social opprobrium that falls upon alcohol or narcotics addiction. But given the social costs related to treating obesity and its side-effects, in particular Type-2 diabetes, maybe sugar addiction should also merit a bit of mockery.

If you're troubled by over-weight - just try this. Weigh yourself. For one week, cut out ALL sugar from your diet - stop eating confectionery, cakes, biscuits, processed foods that included sugar (start reading those labels!). Eat everything else as you normally would. Weigh yourself after one week.

Point proved?

Lent is a good time to change diets, to go for that 46-day cleanse.

Below: bonus photo - ul. Świętorzyska after three beers. Click to enlarge!

This time last year:
The Devil is in doubt

This time two years ago
Are you aware of your consciousness?

This time four years ago:
"Why are all the good historians British?"

This time five years ago:
Central Warsaw, evening rush-hour

This time six years ago:
Cold and getting colder

This time eight years ago:
Uwaga! Sople!

This time nine years ago:
Ul. Poloneza at its worst


Anonymous said...

It is about fat, Micheal.
Donats(pączki) and faworki/chrust require deep fat frying.

Happy fat Thirsday ;-)

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Anonymous:

Indeed - until the 16th Century, Polish pączki were savoury, filled with lard, bacon or meat. Then nuts found their way into the pączek, then sweet fillings. Now exclusively sweet. I'd be delighted to eat deep-fat fried pączki stuffed with crunchy smalec!

And the Thursday-not-Tuesday thing... it pre-dates Christianity in Poland, being a pagan feast!

AndrzejK said...

A recent study in the UK found that the real killer is a 50:50 combination of fat and sugar.

Apparently this mix blocks the bodies natural I'm full reaction and also explains why kids in particular have a "second stomach" for pudding. Eating just fat or just sugar does trigger the I'm full reaction.,

So I am afraid pączki are the ultimate no no diet wise.