Jamie Oliver’s guilty sugar secret: his own recipes are full of the stuff

Imagine a country in which state-subsidised television networks wheel out popular celebrities to scare the masses into supporting more taxes. Imagine no longer. This is not a dystopian future, this is Jamie’s Sugar Rush.

According to a Guardian journalist, Mr Oliver is ‘extremely well liked’. If so, I have drifted further from mainstream public opinion than I realised. In his guise as a TV evangelist on Channel 4 last night, he increasingly resembled a cadaver being zapped with electricity, all blank eyes and random facial expressions. ‘I’ve come here to get my head around it,’ he said with faux-naivety as he prepared to fire loaded questions at another sympathetic interviewee. In an hour of staged encounters and predictable factoids, it was the voyage-of-discovery charade that grated more than anything. It was always going to end with advertising bans, higher taxes and a new crusade for a celebrity chef. Channel 4 knew it, we knew it and Jamie knew it.

There were moments of propaganda in this programme that Kim Jong-Un would have rejected for being too crude. Towards the end, Oliver confronted a bunch of big-wigs to tell them about the revolutionary idea that had emerged from his awakening. The idea was a tax on sugar. Ooh, controversial. Jamie was nervous. How would they react?

Lo and behold, they liked it! Graham MacGregor spoke at length about his support for the proposal. Tam Fry thought it was great. Mike Rayner was also keen. What are the chances? It so happens that MacGregor is the chairman of Action on Sugar, Mike Rayner is a member of Action on Sugar (although the programme did not credit him as such) and Tam Fry, head of the National Obesity Forum, has been going on about taxing food for as long as I can remember. How fortuitous that three of the country’s leading anti-sugar fanatics were in the room.

The millionaire chef is now doing his bit by putting a ‘tax’ on sugary drinks in his own restaurants. The money will go towards a fighting fund to campaign for higher taxes for all. This is Oliver’s contribution to the fight against a product that he says is ‘evil’, a strong word and yet a strangely weak response. People who run vegan restaurants think that killing animals is evil, but they don’t settle for increasing the price of a steak by 10p. They stop serving it. Oliver’s approach is rather different. He hikes the price of a glass of Coke from £2.60 to £2.70 while selling cookery books which are, to put it gently, not wholly consistent with his trenchant anti-sugar views.

Jamie says we shouldn’t be eating more than seven teaspoons of sugar a day. Will he therefore be apologising for his ‘chocolate love cake’ recipe that contains 21 teaspoons of the stuff? What about his sticky toffee pudding (12 teaspoons) or his tasty sundae (16 teaspoons)? Will he be recalling and pulping the cookery book that gave the world his recipe for gluten-free Christmas cake in which every slice had 28 teaspoons? (Jamie has not yet updated his website to include the new sugar guidelines, but that is now four times the recommended daily amount.)

‘Those are desserts!’, I hear you cry. ‘It’s the ‘hidden’ sugars in breakfasts, main courses and drinks that are the real problem.’ OK then. In Jamie’s Sugar Rush, the great man bemoaned the ‘added sugars’ in bread. His own loaf requires two tablespoons — that’s tablespoons, not teaspoons. His pancakes, which were recently promoted in the Sunday Times as a ‘healthy breakfast’, have 17 grammes of sugar per serving — more than a bowl of Frosties. His salmon dish has three teaspoons of sugar, as does his chicken garden soup. As for drinks, how about trying one of Jamie’s milkshakes, which contain more sugar than a can of Coke?

I could go on and on. The point is not that Jamie Oliver has double standards. The point is that any professional chef would appear hypocritical if he started demonising a staple ingredient. Oliver’s recipes don’t use sugar excessively or gratuitously. They are not toxic, addictive or evil. They use as much sugar as is needed to give them the right taste and texture.

If you believe that a teaspoon of sugar is intrinsically harmful, any cookery book will terrify you, even Mrs Beeton’s. ‘Hiding’ ingredients is what chefs do. They are the sellers of ‘empty calories’, the ‘spikers’ of food, the ones who add the ‘added sugar’. Bread is supposed to have a bit of sugar in it. It doesn’t suddenly become a crime when Tesco does it. Everybody, please, calm down.

Jamie Oliver may truly believe that sugar is evil. He may genuinely think that it is dangerous to eat more than seven teaspoons of sugar a day. But if he took his beliefs to their logical conclusion as a restaurateur he would have to become a full-time television presenter to make a living because he would have no restaurant business left. Surely nobody wants that.


  • cartimandua

    He is doing more than anyone else about this so stick your criticism where the sun don’t shine.

    • Ross Parker

      You’re right, he is doing more than most of us on sugar: he’s profiting hugely from selling it.

  • Daniel Salt

    http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/sugar-guideline/en/ – Terrible getting people to cut down their sugar intake even when the WHO agrees

  • James Pickett

    Too much sugar is bad for you. So is too much alcohol or anything else, but there is usually a feedback mechanism, like a hangover, or the inability to get into your old trousers, to tell you to back off. Legislation is not a substitute for common sense.

    • CannabisCanCure

      It’s a shame you’re not running the country, James.

      • Chris Cooke

        then we would all be eating his sugar filled foods!

    • flipkipper

      That’s right, but when will we stop favouring the sugar cartels with one-sided legislation (which is what this is about)?

    • flipkipper

      That’s right, but when will we stop favouring the sugar cartels with one-sided legislation (which is what this is about)?

    • noddy

      true and nor is it a subsitute for big companies profiting from sugar by covering everything they sell in it so we buy more. Why not hit the companies with a sugar tax and leave the taxed to death consumer alone?

      • lolexplosm

        Sugar isn’t addictive though. I love chicken breast, is protein addictive? I love butter and bacon, is fat addictive? We are confusing the pleasure of taste with addiction. If I like something, I will eat it.

        All food is basically carbs, fat and protein. Protein doesn’t taste of much so the fat and carbs help give taste. This is why low fat products tend to have more sugar in i.e. to compensate. Companies want to sell us something that tastes good. If you bought something and it didn’t taste good you wouldn’t buy it ever again and many people would be out of a job as a result of this poor business model.

        • noddy

          ‘..and many people would be out of a job…..’ People are employed in all sorts of jobs creating harmful things so should they be kept in a job forever in case unemployment rises? That is a poor argument. Another comment on here says that it is the HIDDEN sugar added by companies that is the problem ie where the consumer cannot measure what is in their food so cannot adjust it which I agree with. Addiction to sugar can happen without the consumer being aware of it because sugar, as you say, tastes good so we will eat many things we would not normally like if sugar improves the taste.
          Taxing might well hit the consumer so I would not probably choose that option. If you love chicken breast, butter and bacon you may noot have to worry about sugar so much as a coronary! Joking aside, ready meals and take-aways are full of chemicals of all kinds and sugar is just one ingredient amongst many manufacturers (have to) use to entice us to eat their food. Fresh food whether meat, dairy or even items containing sugar are more healthy and organic healthier again.

      • Fergus Mason

        “Why not hit the companies with a sugar tax and leave the taxed to death consumer alone?”

        Because that isn’t possible, of course. If you tax the companies, what do you think is going to happen to the price of the food they sell? There is no way to bring in a sugar tax that won’t, eventually, be paid by consumers.

    • Caractacus

      The feedback mechanism is diabetes.

    • noddy

      Children are not able to judge what is or is not good for them mainly and they are vulnerable to being sold sugar packed edibles (I wont call them food as so many are not even that) Even adults have a problem doing that when the advertising industry is so powerful Hence the vast number of obese people around the world in ‘developed’ countries. However, the Government needs to be taken out of our everyday lives as much as possible as our freedom s are being eroded.

  • James Pickett

    Does Mr Oliver charge the same for sugar-free Coke, I wonder – or is that not on the menu?

    • lolexplosm

      Mr Oliver doesn’t charge extra for diet coke or fruit juice for that matter because they contain no added sugar. However, a glass of fruit juice won’t be far off a glass of coke in terms of sugar.

    • Chris Cooke

      exactly as that is filled with aspartamine

  • ohforheavensake

    Christopher. Oh, dear.

    The clue is the word recipe. You cook it yourself. Which means that you have a choice about how much sugar you put in; or whether you go for another recipe with less sugar. The problem with sugar in foodstuffs is that the quantities aren’t declared clearly, so we don’t have a fair choice.

    This article is simply pathetic.

    • lolexplosm

      Yes but it’s ironic and somewhat hypocritical that a guy that adds a 10p charge to a glass of coke doesn’t do that to the Molten Chocolate Praline Pudding with salted caramel ice cream that you can buy at his restaurant. You do have a fair choice because as you say pick something else. No one is forcing you to drink soft drinks or eat a dessert so it’s ridiculous to charge extra to those of us who eat in moderation and a 10 or 20p charge is not going to stop anybody. Look at alcohol for example.

      If you look at the nutritional information and check “carbohydrates – of which sugars” which tells you how much sugar is there. That’s pretty clear to me.

      • Yes — but then Leftist complainers wouldn’t be able to blame companies, would they, if they actually did something for themselves like read the label?

    • Zarniwoop

      …and likewise you have a choice whether to eat said food stuffs.

      It’s called “a choice” get it?

  • Mark Magenis

    If distraction from the real complex issues of obesity are you goal, them Jamie is your man. He should have stuck to the more sensible healthy eating rather than fad solutions.

  • Take too much of anything and it becomes a poison – Jamie Oliver and other food faddists included.

  • Julia Gasper

    So you are saying we should do nothing about the thousands of children with rotten teeth, the hundreds of amputations each month because of type 2 diabetes? I believe that the foul-mouth Jamie issued those recipes before he researched this matter so closely, and he still has a point. What about shifting 20p tax from wine and beer to sugary soft drinks, since the health risks are not all one side?
    @Mark Magenis. Limiting your sugar intake is not a “fad solution”, it has been recommended by dieticians ever since they existed as a profession.

    • Zarniwoop

      Rotting teeth ~ brush them. A dentist I know says that poor dental hygiene is the real culprit.

      As to Type 2 diabetes well stuffing your piehole with carbs from bread cake pastry pasta and potatoes will inevitably lead to piling on the pounds

    • BenPal

      “we should do nothing about the thousands of children” They are not your children! Would you like me to tell you what you should do or not do with your children? I’m sure close scrutiny of the education you give to your children would air some flaws as well.

  • WalkerboyUK

    The problem isn’t so much sugar content, the problem is parents who can’t be bothered to cook anything properly, relying on microwave meals etc all of which have much higher sugar content. I have 2 kids, aged 11 & 9 and we limit their sugar intake, more for dental reasons than anything else. Most meals are home-made and all the drinks are sugar free and sweets are limited to a maximum of one small bar of chocolate per week. They had candy-floss for the first time last week, and fortunately one of them hated it.

    • ClemenceDR

      It’s not the microwave part that’s bad, it’s the “ready-made”. You can microwave a slice of fish over green beans and new potatoes, adding only a little salt, pepper and herbs, and in five minutes you have a delicious healthy meal.

  • NickG

    Good grief…look at that photo, Jamie Oliver is morphing before our very eyes into Michael Portilo!

    • Gilbert White

      Yes Jamie tried it once and didnt like it much?

  • ClemenceDR

    Bread requires sugar in the receipt? Nonsense. Flour, yeast, salt, nothing else.

    • A bit of sugar is nicer and encourages the yeast. I always put honey in mine (made in my bread machine).

    • peter_peterclarke

      A lot of bread receipts use a small amount of sugar to activate the yeast, it is quicker and simpler and requires less skill than the sourdough method which uses the natural sugar in the flour. As we are on the subject of sugar, the starch in white flour (most of the flour) is simply lots of sugar molecules joined together. Your digestive system splits them off to give you intensely raised blood sugar after eating white flour products. It’s the main reason it is so bad for you.

    • Chris Cooke

      my wife makes her own bread exactly like that, no sugar and it is delicious!

  • Zarniwoop

    There is a cure for this anti everything madness “drink a pint of petrol in the morning and evening and at the end of the week apply lighted match to tonsils” 😀

  • carol hedges

    I think the main thrust of his argument: that children are eating too much sugar, and that advertising is too intrusive, is absolutely spot on. Ditto to point out the dire effects of hidden sugar on people with type 2 Diabetes. I have a small granddaughter I look after and a partner with Type 2. I am scrupulously careful about what they eat. To ‘diss’ what he is saying just because his recipes have a lot of sugar in them is specious. In these two points, he is completely right…and the graphic footage reinforced what he was saying. You may not ‘like’ him (clearly you do not) but that does not detract from the huge and ongoingly increasing health crisis amongst kids and over weight adults.

    • Fergus Mason

      There is no hidden sugar. Just read the damn label.

  • JonathanBagley

    I’m surprised he puts so much salt and sugar in his bread. Anyone bothered about added sugar could cut most of it out without a problem.

    • JonathanBagley

      My Panasonic recipe book suggests 0.833 tablespoons for Jamie’s size of loaf. Warburton’s whole meal contains less sugar than Jamie’s.

  • david kato

    This article is inane and kind of pisses me off. There is sugar in food. No shit. Dont eat the whole fucking cake. Consuming less soda is generally a good premise. This author’s argument is not. There are better ways to make an anti-tax argument. Is this Snowden clown really taking a pro-soda stance? What a joke.

  • david kato

    This article is inane and kind of pisses me off. There is sugar in food. No shit. Dont eat the whole fucking cake. Consuming less soda is generally a good premise. This author’s argument is not. There are better ways to make an anti-tax argument. Is this Snowden clown really taking a pro-soda stance? What a joke.

  • mrclaypole

    The programme started well showing how a healthy bran flake breakfast with a bit of yoghurt had 14 spoons of sugar in it. good point – lots of so called healty food including fruit and veg are crammed with sugars or complex starch.We have been encouraged to eat these in place of fat for a long time and it may have been a massive mistake. It then leapt to a solution – tax fizzy drinks. Not a solution to the identified problem and a lazy story arc for the documentary.

  • Jamie Dewar

    The sugar isn’t “hidden” in any pre-packaged food. That would be illegal. There’s a Red/Amber/Green system on the front of the pack that even a child can understand, and a table on the back stating EXACTLY how much sugar, fat, protein there is in the food.

  • Richard Eldritch

    Knob.

  • trace9

    He’s an Sh2t (geddit), always Known that. 99% Of tv personalities are too.
    ‘big-wigs’ – singularity, please!

  • ohforheavensake

    Christopher.

    In the recipes, the amount of sugar the food contains is clear. Because it’s written down.

    This isn’t the problem.

    The problem occurs when food manufacturers mask the amount of sugar in their food.

    This is a problem.

    It means that people can’t monitor the amount of sugar they eat.

    Effectively, it means that people don’t have a clear choice.

    And that food that might seem healthy, actually isn’t.

    So Jamie’s recipes aren’t a guilty secret.

    Because they’ve been published.

    And it’s hard to keep something secret by publishing it.

    But the amount of sugar in a number of foodstuffs is a problem.

    Because the amount isn’t made clear.

    And therefore, one might say, is kept secret from the consumer.

    Well, Christopher: are we clear now?

  • Mike

    That 21-spoons-of-sugar cake serves 16, and who eats an entire loaf of bread a day? The author of this piece can’t count.

  • Chris Cooke

    Christopher, what a great article. I especially liked the line; ‘People who run vegan restaurants think that killing animals is evil, but they don’t settle for increasing the price of a steak by 10p. They stop serving it.’