Sugar: The 'superfood' of the past?

A mouth-watering new exhibition exploring the history of the sweet tooth, has opened at Wakefield Museum.

Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice forms part of the You Are What You Ate project based at the University and funded by the Wellcome Trust. It aims to inform a healthy balanced diet by displaying the enjoyable side of eating, focusing on fashions and customs linked to feasting and entertainment.

The free exhibition traces the evolution of sweet foods through history, examining their different nutritional roles and reputations within societies dating back to the medieval era.  Visitors will learn the surprising fact that while today we are taught that sugar is bad for us, it was once considered the medieval equivalent of a 'superfood' - a term nowadays reserved for fruits and vegetables full of anti-oxidants such as blueberries, pomegranate and broccoli. The global journey, from plant to plate, of sugar and cinnamon will also be revealed, starting with the story of medieval trade and finishing up with modern trends in nutritional research.  

"The aim of the exhibition is to examine why we like eating. What is the historical and scientific basis of food enjoyment?" said the University's Dr Iona McCleery, co-ordinator of You Are What You Ate. "Ultimately, we want to celebrate eating sweets and cakes while showing awareness that they must be eaten as part of a healthy, balanced diet."

"Part of the reason that medieval people lived far shorter lives than us was because of disease and unhealthier environments; their diets were not necessarily unhealthier," said Professor Gary Williamson from the School of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds. "When people in the UK today still die far younger than average - despite the advantages of modern medicine - we should think seriously about diet as a factor."

You Are What You Ate: food lessons from the past is a three-year research project funded by a Society Award from the Wellcome Trust. It involves academics from the University of Leeds, the University of Bradford and Cultural Officers from Wakefield Council. Project members are working together to deliver a wide range of school activities, stalls, exhibitions and events.

The exhibition runs until 31 October, and opening times are 10am-4.30pm Tuesday to Saturday and entry is free.  More information see can be found at the project website.  

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