Man has always craved for sweetness but it is only within this century that the vast quantities of sugar now consumed have become available. Sugarbeet and cane are grown specially lor sugar production. Consumption now runs at an average of one kilogramme (two pounds) per head per week in Britain. Granulated white sugar is a very pure chemical, and it supplies energy for the body’s fuel requirements but no other nutrients whatsoever. It has been described as empty energy, for there is no actual requirement for sugar in our diets at all. It is a cheap food and can be used to supplement, but not replace, other nutritious alternatives.

Brown or demerara sugar is less refined than white sugar but no known nutrients have been found in brown sugar that could confer wonderful health benefits. Noone has yet found any precise chemical property of honey which could improve health and most of the claims that have been made are poorly substantiated scientifically.

Sugar has been incriminated in several modern diseases. Coronary heart disease, obesity and diabetes parallel the increasing level of sugar consumption in many countries. Dental decay is irrefutably associated with high intakes of sweets, chocolates and toffees, especially between meals. Excessive intakes of sugar cannot be beneficial and restricting the intake of sugar cannot be harmful.

There are several alternative sources of sweetness. Saccharin was discovered by a chemist in 1879. As it is many hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, very small amounts are needed. It contains virtually no energy and is invaluable for those on diets. Some people find it has an aftertaste especially when used to produce high levels of sweetness so it is better used for mild sweetening effects. Saccharin can also produce unpleasant colour changes if it is cooked in food, and is better added to food after cooking, for example with stewed fruit.

Cyclamate is only thirty times as sweet as sugar and was introduced into the USA in 1950. Experiments using very high doses far in excess of normal intakes, showed that cancers could be produced in the bladders of some animals. Use of cyclamates was banned in the USA and then in this country. Scientists have not been deterred and the search for alternative sweeteners still continues.