The relationship between Finns and sugar is relatively funny, as there are many dissociative things between the standard diet, and the number of sugary foods ingested daily. The Finnish diet is pretty healthy, with many fresh ingredients, lean meats, and whole grains. But at the same time, we can notice daily little things that can be increasing the sugar intake.
In 2019, Finland was number nine in a top ten chart of countries with the highest sugar consumption. With 91.5 g per day, the list also had the USA in first, Germany in second, and the Netherlands in third. In short, those three countries have some things in common: obesity of part (or more than half) of the population, and the high intake of processed foods with refined sugars. According to the World Health Organization, the "recommended limit for the daily dose of sugar for improved health is around 11 grams" with WHO recommending that this number should not exceed 25 g per day.
Finland has 21 % of the population with obesity, but recently reported a decrease in the risk of non-communicable diseases. The most important reason for this is a reduction in essential factors, including smoking, hypertension, and high cholesterol. What could also contribute, is to eat less refined sugars: soft drinks, candies, and even that little spoon of sugar in your coffee.
The average per capita consumption of confectionery stands at 6.3 kg, in a projection for this year. The country with the sweeter tooth is the good neighbor Sweden, with 15 kg and even a word to specify the overindulgence, "Lördagsgodis," literally meaning "Saturday candy." So, instead of eating it every day, people have a special one to gorge on sweets.
The "candy day" is something very popular with kids in Finland as well, and industries are very aware of that. Halva, a Finnish company founded in 1928 by two Greek brothers, has a diversified confectionery production adapted to new trends. "We also have sugar free liquorice and salmiac candies in our assortment. The demand for these is increasing, but still a small part of the market. Many of our products are gluten free and vegan friendly. These are important trends to follow. Also we strive to make the products more natural all the time, more clean labels," says the CEO of the company, Jean Karavokyros.
As companies and the State have new policies, with the help of higher taxes on sugary drinks and candies since 2011, the label "Better Choice" is given to products with less added sugars. The campaign aims to use sweeteners like xylitol, a national product made of birch trees, which is now mostly used in chewing gums.
In the same year, Finland was in the 5th position of the top candy consumers and was elected the happiest country in the world by the UN. So, does happiness and sugar walk together? Is salmiakki the recipe for happiness? As the candy company Namitupa says, "we believe that yes, sweets increase happiness. It's easy to prove it when you see the look of a child staring at a lollipop or a caramel. Salmiakki is probably the safest, and perhaps healthiest, addiction." With this, is the love for the salty black licorice so intense that it has deep implications such as the 91.5 g ingestion of sugar per day?
The origin of salmiakki makes me question even more. Ammonia chloride, the ingredient which gives the candy its flavor, was combined with licorice to encourage children to take their medicine. There is no real answer to why the strange flavor combination became part of Finland's national identity. It's more of an acquired taste, as Finns have been eating it since childhood.
With politics on healthier lifestyles and progressive views on processed foods even by big companies, it's indeed funny the relationship between sugar and the Finns. Maybe it's the small things: the sweetened oatmeal in the morning, the pulla in the afternoon, the salmiakki. Perhaps it's just time to notice daily habits.
Photo: Annillart on Pixabay