No sugar for a month: my findings

Sugar is extremely bad for your healthIn late February I came across some compelling research about the dangers of eating sugar (or fructose to be more precise). I wrote a blog about it and I began a month-long experiment to see how I would feel without eating sugar or any foods which have added sugar.

I avoided all sugary foods including: sweets, chocolates, biscuits, cakes, desserts, ice cream, honey, syrup, all alcohol, ketchup, baked beans, sugary drinks, fruit juices, milkshakes, and many others.

It was impossible to avoid eating any sugar whatsoever as many foods contain small amounts of it, including foods that one wouldn’t normally expect to have any added sugar at all, i.e. crisps, mayonnaise, Weetabix, vegetable soup etc.

Nevertheless I went from being completely oblivious about my daily sugar intake, to having around 5g a day, about the same as 1 teaspoon. It has been an interesting experience and here’s a summary of my findings:

The low points

  • I must confess that I did have a couple of relapses in the form of a slice of cheesecake, a bar of chocolate and a pot of yoghurt. However on the whole I was quite disciplined and I stuck to the parameters of my experiment.
  • Around the fourth and fifth day I had some strong sugar cravings and I was very grumpy with the people around me (apologies to them).
  • I also didn’t eat any of my own birthday cake, which is just plain sad.

The high points

  • Discovering sugar-free chocolates and biscuits being sold at my local Boots (aimed at people who have diabetes) was a high point, although paying £2.99 per packet was a rip-off. I expect there are decent cheaper products available to purchase online.
  • I bought some glucose sugar (the good kind of sugar) and I occasionally used this to create any foods that I craved, i.e. pancakes on Pancake Day.
  • Losing several pounds without dieting or intending to lose weight was a bonus.

My findings

Hidden sugars in every day foods and drinksI strongly believe that Professor Robert Lustig and others, who have recently been warning about the dangers of eating sugar, are onto something very important.

By not eating sugar throughout the whole of the last month I have been feeling a lot healthier, happier, and more energetic day-to-day. (My increased energy levels even inspired me to purchase a new hybrid mountain bike.) I also unintentionally lost weight and found myself eating more fruits and vegetables.

It has helped me to become a lot more health conscious and to think seriously about the food and drink that I consume on a daily basis. I haven’t really missed not having biscuits with tea or a dessert after a main meal. As with many ‘bad habits’ it would seem that our reliance on sugary foods is a learnt behaviour that can slowly be unlearnt.

During my experiment I became acutely aware of the excessive amounts of sugar being added to foods and drinks, particularly in products aimed at children. For example I witnessed a friend’s son have a bottle of fizzy drink which contained more than 35g of sugar. That’s the equivalent of drinking a cup of tea with 9 teaspoons of added sugar, which no-one in their right mind would ever do.

Roughly halfway through my sugar-free month the World Health Organisation issued new guidance, urging people to cut their consumption of sugar to less than 10% of daily total calorie intake (around 50g), or ideally to less than 5%. However many of the world’s leading scientists and academics think these recommended levels are still too high. I certainly do not think 50g of sugar a day is at all healthy.

Avoiding sugar and fructose completely is impossible, because varying quantities are added to so many different foods and drinks, and we can never know exactly how much sugar if any has been added to something that we haven’t prepared.

However I have certainly adopted a positive and (hopefully) permanent change of lifestyle, in choosing to avoid most sugary foods and drinks from now on, and opting for fresh fruit where possible to sweeten my dietary intake.

Although I am lucky to be in very good health at the moment, with no underlying health conditions or concerns, I felt it was sensible to do some research and try to be a bit proactive about my future health. I now look forward to campaigning on the dangers of sugar addiction and the importance of eating a balanced diet as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Sugar causes disease

Sugar is an addictive poison

Stop eating sugarI recently watched two fascinating lectures on YouTube by the world-renowned academic Professor Robert Lustig. The first video dates back to 2009 and has more than 4.3 million views. The second lecture is from 2013 and links directly to the one he gave four years earlier. Both YouTube videos are included below.

Firstly by way of background: there are many different types of sugars. Examples include: fructose; lactose; glucose; and sucrose (which is actually 50% fructose and 50% glucose). Conventional table sugar is sucrose, i.e. 50% fructose and 50% glucose, and it is the fructose half of sucrose that is the major cause for concern.

Sugar (sucrose) – and fructose in particular – is an addictive poison that is incredibly harmful to human health. This is because: a) it cannot be properly processed by the body; b) it is addictive and fools our brain into thinking we’re not full, leading to overeating; and c) it is more quickly converted and stored as fat by the liver.

Sugar causes disease in the human body

Dangerous sugars such as sucrose and fructose should not to be confused with other sugars like glucose and lactose, which are useful nutrients in a healthy diet. In other words, food items such as chocolate (sucrose) or fruit juice (fructose) are bad; whereas foods like bread (glucose) and milk (lactose) are fine in moderation.

In summary, sugar makes you fat and it makes you sick, and sugar poses the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century. Unfortunately modern society is naïvely unaware of the dangers of sugar, in much the same way that society in the 20th century was unaware of the dangers of smoking.

Learning the truth about sugar has been a real eye-opener for me and that’s why I want to help spread the word. I would urge everyone to watch these lectures to really understand the science behind sugar. This article published in January 2014 is also helpful in understanding the sheer gravity of the situation.

It would seem logical for the purpose of improving one’s health, and avoiding diseases like diabetes, to quickly and permanently remove sugar from our diets. And that is precisely what I myself am now trying to do.

Update – Here’s another very useful video but this time only 15 minutes long, which summarises a lot of what Professor Lustig is talking about in the above lectures:

Update – Follow up article here on my month-long experiment without sugar and subsequent decision to give it up almost entirely.

My first year as a Councillor – activities and achievements

Exactly a year ago today residents in Beaumont Leys voted to elect me as one of their local Labour Councillors to serve on Leicester City Council.

It was a tremendous honour and a huge privilege to have been entrusted to represent the views of local people, especially as I’ve lived in the area since I was 7 years old. Also as the son of immigrants, who came to this country from East Africa fleeing persecution, and as someone who was born and raised on a council estate in Leicester, it was particularly poignant to have been chosen to serve on the very Council that had once supported me and my family when times were tough.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love my party and my politics, but to be honest my love of politics merely stems from my love of people. That may sound like an awful cliché but it is the truth. In-fact I believe that if you’re not a people person and you don’t genuinely thrive on being able to solve problems and help make peoples’ lives that much easier, then you shouldn’t seek to hold public office.

Whereas if you have a passion for putting people first, for lifting hopes and aspirations, for fighting social injustice, and for leading by example and working hard, then politics isn’t just a career choice, it’s a moral imperative; an obligation to use your skills and expertise to serve the public and to try and make a difference in the world.

It’s been an incredible year and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’m grateful to my good friend Vijay Riyait and all the wonderful people mentioned in this post who worked tirelessly on the election campaign.

I’ve been fortunate to have two excellent co-Councillors in Vi Dempster and Paul Westley, as well as a good deal of support from our hardworking local MP Liz Kendall, and City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby. It’s a real pleasure to be part of such a great Labour team.

In addition to working closely with my fellow Councillors in holding regular ward surgeries, attending residents association meetings and carrying out specific casework and solving problems on behalf of constituents, here’s a summary of my other activities and achievements during my first 12 months as a Leicester City Councillor:

Policing:

  • Appointed as a Member of the Leicestershire Police Authority and attended numerous Authority and sub-committee meetings.
  • Delivered a speech on policing cuts at the 2011 Labour Party conference and discussed the issue with the Chair of the Police Federation.
  • Raised the issue of policing cuts in the Council chamber as well as in the local, regional and national press.
  • Led the Labour team at the Leicestershire Police Authority in fighting to save nearly 200 jobs and helping to secure neighbourhood and frontline policing.
  • Attended a special conference on the ‘Roots of Violent Radicalisation’ hosted by the Home Affairs Select Committee and Leicester East MP Keith Vaz.
  • Together with co-Councillors, approved funding for a local police community safety shop at the Beaumont Leys shopping centre.

Education and young people:

  • Continued to work hard as a school governor at Soar Valley college and took on a new role as a governor at Beaumont Lodge primary school.
  • Delivered a speech on achievement at Soar Valley College in Rushey Mead.
  • Delivered a speech on aspiration at Babington College in Beaumont Leys.
  • Attended a special conference on the application of new technologies in schools.
  • Took up an appointment as a Member of Court at the University of Leicester.
  • Attended summer fetes with co-Councillors at Glebelands primary and Beaumont Lodge primary schools, and the Beaumont Lodge Neighbourhood Association.
  • Delivered a speech at the University of Leicester in support of the ‘Living Wage’ campaign being run by Labour Students.

Health and community:

  • Helped set up and Chair a new community task group to tackle domestic violence in Beaumont Leys and Abbey.
  • Actively supported the campaign to save the children’s heart centre at the Glenfield General Hospital in Beaumont Leys.
  • Attended a special event organised by the Somali community in Beaumont Leys.
  • Launched the British Heart Foundation’s Big Donation event at the Beaumont Leys shopping centre.
  • Attended the official opening of the new Beaumont ward at the Bradgate Mental Health Unit in Beaumont Leys.
  • Visited a new locally-run free lunch club at Christ the King church.

Transport and environment:

  • Voted at Planning Committee in support of modernising Leicester train station.
  • Participated in a special climate change and water management conference.
  • Worked with co-Councillors and local businesses to help tackle parking problems in parts of north Beaumont Leys.
  • Became actively involved in the work of the Castle Hill Country Park user group.
  • Attended a special conference on local transport policy in Leicester.
  • Helped secure 11 new grit bins for locations throughout Beaumont Leys.

Housing:

  • Attended a special conference on student housing and future strategy.
  • Wrote an article about increasing levels of homelessness and spent Christmas Day helping at a local homeless shelter to raise awareness.
  • Voted at Planning Committee in support of the creation of new housing developments and student flats across the city.
  • Hosted public meetings with fellow Councillors, the local MP and the Mayor to discuss traveller encampments and the on-going consultation on proposed sites.

Business and jobs:

  • Agreed to join the board of the Cooke e-Learning Foundation, a Beaumont Leys  based enterprise helping people to train for jobs.
  • Attended a conference and dinner hosted by the Indo British Trade Council.
  • Visited the Beaumont Leys Enterprise Centre to support local businesses.
  • Spoke in the Council chamber on the economy and drafted an article on how the Budget will adversely affect Beaumont Leys.
  • Hosted the 2012 HSBC English Asian Business Awards in Manchester and worked to secure Leicester as the 2013 host city.

Social justice and charity:

  • Lobbied the Foreign Office and raised the issue of the Sri Lankan civil war with Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt MP.
  • Attended numerous public events to oppose cuts to Legal Aid and lobbied the Solicitor General Edward Garnier QC MP on the issue.
  • Attended a fundraiser in support of ‘Unique Home for Girls’, a charity caring for orphaned and abandoned girls.
  • Visited the offices of Leicestershire AIDS Support Services and attended the annual World AIDS Day service at Leicester Cathedral.
  • Attended the launch of a 3-day festival organised by the Pushti Nidhi charity.

Culture and faith:

  • Met with Leicester Council of Faiths and attended events during inter-faith week.
  • Visited numerous places of worship across Leicester belonging to all of the city’s main faith communities.
  • Attended a concert of the Philharmonia Orchestra and an ‘Orchestra Unwrapped’ concert promoting music to school children.
  • Attended ‘Out of Africa’; an annual celebration of African culture hosted by Harvest City Church.
  • Attended an Inter-Cultural Evening hosted by the Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police.
  • Attended a lecture on Hindu and Christian dialogue hosted by the Leicester Friends of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.

Attendance record at all Leicester City Council & Planning Committee meetings: 100%