Thursday, 14 August 2008

The Worst Sugar Pushers of all - Health Food Stores

Julian Graves Responds to 'Sugar Pushers' Post (Worst Sugar Pushers Part 2)
The Worst Sugar Pushers of All Part 3 - Holland and Barrett Takes Centre Stage

UK-based health food stores like Holland and Barrett and Julian Graves are selling garbage to us. These retailers masquerade as health food vendors but are no less cynically exploiting the junk food market than vilified organisations like McDonalds. Sure, these ‘health food’ stores also sell nuts, dried fruits, supplements and sundry other harmless products, but they also sell confectionary.

I am interested to know whether there is a similar phenomenon in the US or elsewhere. I am visiting the US next week and will be sure to check it out.

This is what you find in the UK: healthy products featuring prominently around the store – bags of nuts, dried fruits, seeds and so on - but equally prominent, and sometimes mixed in with these products so that the layout implies no obvious distinction, are bags of confectionary. Yogurt-coated nuts or raisins are favourites, and whilst these at least contain a natural food, nevertheless the coating is usually made mostly of sugar. In some cases – as with Julian Graves – you find products made almost entirely from sugar.

Obviously these retailers are not breaking any laws. Apparently, they are entitled to position themselves as health food stores and yet sell food which by any reasonable definition is unhealthy; and please, if anyone from any of the stores is thinking of responding with the phrase we suggest customers enjoy these products as occasional treats as part of a balanced and nutritious diet, then don’t bother. This has no relevance here. By positioning yourself as a health food store and selling unhealthy food alongside healthy food, you are implicitly indicating that the unhealthy food is also healthy; and I know you have the ingredients on the back – but many people do not read or understand these labels, and you know it.

The thing is, I can picture them in the marketing meeting. The cynicism is breathtaking.

-Bob, we’re not making enough money on nuts – what can we do?
-Well sir, we could start selling those sugar-coated nuts that make us more profit.
-But people might not buy them, Bob.
-Why not, sir?
-Well, because they’re coated in sugar. It has something of a reputation for not being healthy.
Long pause.
-Sir – what if we added a small amount of yogurt and called them ‘yogurt-coated nuts?’ People will convince themselves they are healthy.
With growing excitement and conviction:
-...and the fact they are in our health food store, and located near these other genuinely healthy foods will seal the deal! Bob, you’re a genius. Give yourself a raise.

-Thank you sir.

The worst part is that they prey on our biggest weakness - weakness. We want to believe that by eating yogurt-coated nuts or raisins we are being healthy. We want to believe that they taste so good just because they do, and not because they are 1% yogurt, 99% sugar.

You might say it is naive to think that health food stores are any less driven by the bottom line than other stores. If people want to buy this food, stores will sell them. The products they stock merely reflect what we want to eat.

However I disagree. By choosing to enter the ‘health food’ market, these stores have taken on an unwritten burden of responsibility. Their activities now come under the same ethical umbrella as medicine, and as such they are required to operate with the same transparency and respect for their customers. I don’t care whether they are legally obliged to do so and I don’t care whether their spokespeople are able to worm their way out of criticism with gibberish and sophistry. They know what they are doing and we know what they are doing, so the only conclusion we can draw from the fact they continue is that they have nothing but contempt for the people they serve.

See Also:
Julian Graves Responds to 'Sugar Pushers' Post

For more background on why I feel so strongly about the inclusion of sugar in our foods read We’re all Junkies.

The cereal industry is another hot bed of sugar pushers – check out Drop that Spoon from Ross Enamait's blog. I love the quote “If you currently eat cereal, consider eating the box instead.”

Also of note is this recent advertising campaign for the sugar-laden Special K, encouraging us to eat not one, but TWO bowls per day, replacing two meals.

Admittedly the sugar issue is more complicated than making ‘refined sugar’ the only bad guy. Nevertheless, see this evidence for the dangers of refined sugar. If you don’t like the technical stuff, you could do a lot worse than just avoiding that and eating fresh food.

But if you do want to know the full skinny, check out Modern Forager’s excellent explanation here.

…and Dr Eades’ piece on the medical implications.

If you want to read one testimony that supports the notion of sugar as an addictive substance, check out Fit Shack’s Ban the Refined Sugar Experiment.

Here is a post on Diet Blog that for me epitomises what we are up against. It’s a list of healthy snacks being suggested for kids on journeys. Number 9 on the list? Boiled sweets. When I read this I almost had an aneurism.

And finally, a superb rant from Mount Baker Cross-Fit about the shame of so much sugar being in the foods our kids eat.

See Also:
Julian Graves Responds to 'Sugar Pushers' Post (Worst Sugar Pushers Part 2)
The Worst Sugar Pushers of All Part 3 - Holland and Barrett Takes Centre Stage
New York - Limited Cake Porn but Plenty of Sugar Pushers
New York Part 2 – Another Sugar Pusher and Cake Security Threat
Cigarettes, Sugar and our Innate Short-Termism


Anonymous said...

I see this as well, living in the UK I despise what Holland and Barret are doing with things like suger covered nuts/raisins promoting them as a health food. Its shocking but so many people think just because they purchased it at Holland & Barrett it must be healthy so it gives them permission to eat whatever they please.
Sugar is being pushed from every direction these days and with the lack of education on basics of nutrition so many people are putting on weight and becoming because of it.

Great informative post

Unknown said...

Same deal here in the USA. Too much easy money to be made from sugar. Manmade food is to be avoided, in all cases and countries.

Colonel Gadafi said...

Most chemists sell chocolate and in the United States Coca Cola started out life getting sold in Pharmacies. It's a funny old world

Anonymous said...

Chemists sell sweets, and peddle drugs, its disgusting

Methuselah said...

Andrew, Anon - I have just been into a chemist on 3rd Avenue in New York, where they were selling vitamin C 'lozenges', the top ingredient of which was Sugar. So I see what you mean. I wonder whether the net effect to health of these 'supplements' is positive or negative? Depends, I suppose, on the extend to which a person genuinely needs the vitamin C. Would be an interesting topic for research.

Stephan Guyenet said...

I totally agree. I think supplement stores are in the same vein, minus the sugar. They both sell crap that's labeled as healthy but is irrelevant to your health at best.

The real health food isn't making anyone rich: meat, eggs, vegetables, nuts, butter, fruit.

Methuselah said...

Stephan - excellent point and one that's fundamental to the position we are in. Profit wins over health every time. I think this is a theme we will be returning to over and over again...


Here in the States I was at a movie theatre with my daughter and heard two mothers who had brought their daughters having a conversation: First mother, "I brought cotton candy." Second mother, "What!?" First mother, "Don't worry, its from Whole Foods."

No matter how you spin it, cotton candy is simply spun sugar. THAT is the grip that Whole Foods Inc. has on America.

Methuselah said...

KAYUMOCHI - nicely put. People prefer things to be simple, but unfortunately, nutrition is complicated. Believing that simply buying something from a given retailer is enough to ensure health makes life easy for people. Just doesn't do much for their health.

Marnee said...

30 grams of dried fruit (prune, apricot, pear) has 17 grams sugar.

30 grams of yogurt covered raisins from Weymouth Farms has 17 grams sugar.

30 grams of average sugar coated almonds has 19 grams sugar.

Why is the dried fruit harmless?

Methuselah said...


I take your point. Harmless is a relative term and perhaps not the one I should have used here. No doubt anything is harmless if used sufficiently sparingly. Looking at it from the vendor's point of view, it their use of sugar that sticks in my craw most because whilst you and I know that eating lots of dried fruit is not good for you, I doubt they do. However, they do know (as do most people) that refined sugar is bad, and therefore their decision to sell products containing it under the guise of health food is particularly cynical.

Unknown said...

Hello sir, I was hoping I could get your advice. Well, I have been making the change slowly in my diet, to one where I got rid of all the junk food, and try to eat as healthy as possible, and staying away from any foods that come with labels I can't pronounce or anything like that. The main reason for my seeking change is to help the feeling of tiredness I feel throughout the day. I have read your story, and like you I have tried all kinds of diets. I feel certain foods make me tired. Right now I am doing a cooked paleo diet, and I feel great; however, fruit are something I feel the body can do without and are seemingly overrated. I just feel as if every time I eat fruits, my body goes into shutdown mode; however, I am not sure if it is wise to completely eliminate fruit. Do you think fruit is overrated in our


Methuselah said...

Cedric - congratulations on making the change to a Paleo diet - I am not surprised this has helped you feel better. My view is that fruit is entirely unecessary. I have gone for weeks at a time without it in the past. To me it's just something to add variety for those who want it. Just because something contains lots of goodness (which fruit undoubtedly does) it does not mean you have to have it. You can get plenty of goodness from the other components of a Paleo diet. I find that eating too much fruit inflames my sweet tooth and makes me more liable to crave sugar, so keeping the amounts or fruit low works best for me - but as I say, I would happily go to zero if I needed to.

Unknown said...

Thanks, I really appreciate, I feel my move to eating with a Paleo mindset has helped me dramatically, but there are still questions I have, and since your site has helped me dramatically, I was hoping I could get your advice.

First thank you on the reply regarding fruit, it was a theory of mine, but on every paleo forum, fruits seem to be a staple of the diet. I just feel worse after I include a fruit with a meal.

1. The reason why I actually switched to the paleo diet was to help clear up a years long struggle with acne. It worked wonders, but what I also noticed was buts aggravated the condition,especially almonds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds. I was wondering your thoughts on nuts?

2. I guess to stay on this diet, one has to be be extremely disciplined and mindful of his or her health, and for that reason I came to the conlucision a majority of my meals with consist of meat and veggies. Regarding meat, are their ones that I should stay away from?

Thanks again


Methuselah said...

Nuts: I would avoid eating too many nuts. Apparently they contain phytic acid, which is something our stomachs don't like. Have a look at this post. However, if you soak them or roast them it does apparently reduce the amount of phytic acid.

It's not what meat you eat, it's how its reared and prepared. I would advise you to choose organic, free range meat and non-farmed fish. Have a look at this post.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the detailed replies, I have read the the links you included , and they are really informative. Thanks again. I totally agree with the position taken on nuts, I believe they are highly touted without a too many disclaimers mentioning people should eat with moderation.

Unknown said...

Going back to how fruits are avodied because they pretty much sugar and water mixed together. Don't veggies also have sugar in them, making them no different than fruit in this sense?

Methuselah said...

I think the point about veggies is that they contain sugars in much smaller amounts than fruit - hence they don't taste very sweet. A pretty good rule to follow is that the sweeter something tastes, the more you should consider it to be an occasional treat rather than a regular source of calories.

Unknown said...

Hello Sir thanks for the reply. Well, I have been doing some "experiments": these past two days I have got rid of the fruit and stuck with lo gi veggies. But today in the morning I went with an all meat meal, and today was the first day I did not yawn on the way to work and was really alert. There is no doubt I am sugar sensitive; however I really would like to keep a respectable weight. I also find eating meat by itself very enjoyable. Right now I weigh about 135 pounds and I am about 5'6. I really would like to keep this weight stagnant or even gain some weight. If I were to eat strictly meat or maybe eggs here and there essentially meals that do not turn into protein, would my intake have to be ridiculous, to just maintain that above mentioned weight? Because right now as you mentioned in the previous email, I am keeping the occasional fruit and veggie as a calorie filler.

Methuselah said...

If you are worried about losing weight I would advise increasing your intake of healthy fats - and/or making sure you do resistance exercise to encourage muscle growth.

Unknown said...

Thanks M, regarding nuts, so when trying to decipher the calorie intake, say you have a handful of almonds, is that handful more likely to make a person add punds than say a slab of chicken breast? Because when looking at these calorie meters it always seeems to measure the calories of nuts by the cup, and often the number listed is well above 600. It is just kind of hard to believe these little treats can fill so many calories.

Methuselah said...

m - I wouldn't get too caught up in counting calories. Provided you follow your hunger and eat paleo, your body composition will take care of itself. If you pig out on chicken breast or pig out on nuts, both will make you put on weight, so rather than choose one over the other, just make sure that whatever you eat, when you are satisfied, stop eating. I always think about the fact that I know when my next meal will be when I am eating the current meal, and that reminds me that I don't have to overeat.

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