A recently published study has confirmed a link between the consumption of sugary drinks and increased risk of bowel cancer.
The study involved a cohort of over 95,000 women, whose diet and health were monitored between 1991 and 2015. It found that women under the age of fifty who regularly consume more than a pint of sugary drinks per day have double the risk of developing bowel cancer compared to those who drank less than half a pint a week.
Of course, sugary drinks are already known to increase the risk of a range of other medical disorders, including tooth decay, obesity and diabetes.
Given all the evidence of how harmful they are, one has to ask why it is that so many of us still consume these unhealthy beverages. They do not serve any essential nutritional purpose.
The answer lies in their high sugar content. Eating sugar releases dopamine in our bodies, which gives a pleasurable “high”. This increases the likelihood of us wanting to repeat the behaviour to get the same dopamine rush. As that behaviour is repeated, however, our brains adjust to the excess sugar in our diet and release less dopamine. This means that in order to experience the same “high” as before, we have to consume these drinks in increasing amounts and frequency.
This, essentially, is a pattern of behaviour that could also be used to describe dependency and substance misuse, but because sugar is socially acceptable and so prevalent in our diet, we do not see this relationship for what it really is.
Although most of the excess sugar we consume comes from beverages, other sources include confectionary, biscuits, cake, yoghurts, sauces, ready meals and take-away foods.
We certainly do not need this sugar in our bodies. Sugar already occurs naturally in fruit and vegetables, in a form which causes a slower release into our bodies and which provides enough for our needs. Unlike natural sugars, the sugar found in sugary drinks is refined and concentrated, and it is this which triggers that dopamine response.
This is good news for the manufacturers because refined sugar not only encourages addictive behaviour, it also happens to be a comparatively cheap ingredient. Worldwide the sugary drinks industry turns a trillion-dollar profit. At the same time, the costs to our health care services of treating the long-term effects of the industry’s products – diabetes, obesity, tooth decay and cancer – is similarly huge (in the UK, treating diabetes alone uses up 11% of the entire National Health Service budget).
According to the United Nations, taxing products containing excess sugars would result in proportional reductions in consumption of those products. Many countries, including the UK, have introduced some form of “sugar tax” and all have led to a modest reduction in consumption. But none go far enough.
We can, of course, voluntarily adapt our taste buds to accept less sugar. But taxing these products at a realistic level (one reflecting the full and true health costs of consumption) would begin to put them out of temptation’s way, encourage healthy changes to our patterns of consumption, reduce the obscene profits of the companies behind these unhealthy products and bring down the huge healthcare costs associated with the growing list of diseases linked to them.
Peas are in season here in the UK. I grow a rare heritage variety called Victorian purple podded pea, which is a lovely, rambling plant than can reach nearly two metres in height. Its flowers are a lovely two-tone burgundy and mauve, giving way to purple pods containing sweet green peas. Like many heritage varieties it is under threat from seed legislation which protects big business at the cost of plant and seed diversity.
In this recipe I’ve combined them with gram flour to make these delicious, delicate pancakes, which work perfectly with the other ingredients. The pancakes are vegan and there are some good vegan feta options for those wishing to make a fully vegan version of this dish.
pea pancakes with feta, olive and mint
200 g organic vegetarian or vegan feta cheese
16 Kalamata olives, stoned
1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
juice of half a lemon
a little extra virgin olive oil, for frying
for the pancakes
100 g peas, fresh or thawed from frozen
90 g gram (chickpea) flour
40 ml extra virgin olive oil
200 ml cold fresh water
½ tsp sea salt
1. Blanch the peas in boiling water for four minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water then place in a food processor. Add the gram flour, olive oil, sea salt and water an blend into a smooth batter.
2. Chop the feta into small, roughly 1 cm cubes. Place in a bowl and add the olives, mint and lemon juice. Toss to combine.
3. Pour a very small amount of olive oil (no more than a teaspoonful) into a frying pan and place over a high heat. While the oil heats up, give the pancake batter a final whisk. When the oil is hot, pour a quarter of the pancake batter into the pan Cook for 2-3 minutes, by which time small air holes will appear in the pancake. Very carefully turn the pancake over to cook the other side for a further 2-3 minutes. Repeat with the remaining batter until you have four pancakes.
4. To serve, place a pancake on each plate and top with the feta, olive, lemon juice and mint mixture.