The enemy lurks not only in muffins and chocolate bars, but in unsuspected places like vinegar and sandwiches.

The #sugarfree tag is trending on social media, along with extravagant claims about the benefits of going completely without sugar in all its forms.

Sugar-rich foods are being compared to drugs, and as a result, the metaphorical knives are out for glucose syrup, fructose, maltose and sucrose.

Replacement sweeteners, such as erythritol, are replacing standard household refined sugar for many devotees of the sugar-free lifestyle.

Is this the next craze to follow the vegan, lactose-free and glucose-free diets?

Dietary experts are sceptical about the new trend

The new wave of anti-sugar activists are concerned about much more than caries.

They maintain that avoiding sugar makes for a radiant complexion, fewer wrinkles, weight loss, a heightened sense of taste and the ability to concentrate better.

“It was like being reborn,” German talk show host Anastasia Zampounidis said recently, looking back on 10 years of avoiding refined sugar and referring to herself as a recovered addict.

Commentators noted that Zampounidis looked much younger than her 48 summers.

Berlin endocrinologist Dr Andreas Pfeiffer acknowledges that sugar has its downsides, but remains sceptical about the claims.

“Sugar is not very healthy, and if we eat too much of it, there are negative implications for the metabolism,” he says.

“But there are no data on the effects on one’s looks.”

Too much sugar can be a contributing factor to obesity, but harmful effects are very difficult to prove in healthy and slim people, in Dr Pfeiffer’s view.

There is also very little information available on the link between dose and effect in humans.

Omitting sugar is an essential part of the recent “clean eating” trend, as well as the “paleo” diet, which seeks to mimic Stone Age eating habits.

These diets target refined sugars and processed foods, which often contain these sugars.

Low-calorie sweeteners are often used instead.

Strictly speaking, “sugar-free” should include foods that naturally contain sugar, such as fruit and vegetables, as well as dairy products.

Sugary foods like this apple strudel are off limits for proponents of sugar-free eating plans such as ‘clean eating’ and the Paleo Diet. Photo: dpa

Using the right buzzword

The marketing for these trends avoids the term “diet”, with its connotations of dour self-denial.

The buzzword is “challenge”. Photos show women consuming green smoothies along with plates of fruit.

German nutrition expert Gabriele Kaufmann notes that clever packaging can seduce those not versed in dietary science.

She is adamant: “Completely sugar-free is not necessary.”

Referring to the health freaks avoiding gluten as well, she says: “There are no wrong foods, only wrong ways of consuming them.”

That means eating too much, or an unbalanced diet.

Kaufmann cautions that radical changes to diet can disrupt the metabolism and urges anyone contemplating a drastic change to seek professional advice.

The “challenge” can all too often lead to the well-known “yo-yo effect”.

The high priest of sugar avoidance is Dr Robert Lustig, professor of paediatrics at the University of California in San Francisco, US, who has drawn an audience of millions on YouTube.

Over the past decade, Prof Lustig has railed against the food industry for “poisoning” food in the form of added corn syrup from maize to sweet drinks, bread and ready meals.

He sees this as a major contributor to the wave of obesity and diabetes sweeping much of the world.

Sugar and fat combo

Dr Pfeiffer is more concerned about the combination of sugar and fat in pastries, which he describes as “fairly toxic”.

The endocrinologist sees the wide range of sweetened products on the market, especially soft drinks, as “a huge problem”, but referring to sugar as “addictive” is problematic, in his view. – dpa