Sugar- the other addictive white powder.
Updated: Jun 14
“In 2012 about 56 million people died throughout the world; 620,000 of them died due to human violence (war killed 120,000 people, and crime killed another 500,000). In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes. Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder.”
― Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A History of Tomorrow
Weight loss tip #7. Watch the sugar!!
As part of my 2020 Covid Weight loss challenge I've chosen to tackle one of the biggest diet obstacles there is- sugar. I switched from Apple Cinnamon Cheerios (10 grams of sugar) to regular Cheerios (1 gram) and boy what a difference in taste. Reading the food labels can be very informative when evaluating the sugar content in your favorite foods. Just be aware that sugar can come in many different forms- honey, syrup, molasses, sucrose, dextrose, fructose or high fructose corn syrup- the most common sweetener there is.
In 1955 President Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack that scared both him and the nation. Since the end of WWII heart disease had been increasing in American and experts were looking for the causes. New improvements in food processing were changing America's diet and the finger was pointed at two causes- sugar and fat.
According to a 2016 article in the JAMA Internal Medicine, it was the sugar industry that took the lead in the 1960's to point the finger at fat and change the course of American history. Internal documents prove that an industry group called the Sugar Research Foundation funded an influential literature review that exonerated sugar and pointed to fat in diets as the cause of coronary heart disease. Then no mention was made by the writers of the review that it was funded by Big Sugar, and the medical community took it to heart in their recommendations.
Corporate-funded studies are not a new thing, but they can be very persuasive if performed with the funding a secret. The tobacco industry paved the way for this kind of research, and now the sugar and fossil fuel industry are following suit. If you know what kind of results you want to find, it's much easier to get there.
Starting in the 1970's sugar started to be added to all sorts of foods and "fat free" or "low fat" were the words consumers looked for with their food purchases. Given a clean bill of health, sugar soon turned up in cereals, yogurt, salad dressing, canned fruit, pasta sauce and frozen dinners. The biggest offender turned out to be the growing soft drink industry, where a 20 ounce standard bottle of Coca Cola contains 65 grams of sugar or the equivalent of 16 teaspoons. (The first bottles of Coke were only 8 ounces.)
Many plants have naturally occurring sugars. Much of our sugar comes from sugar cane and sugar beets. Most fruits contain fructose, a tasty sugar that makes them delicious. Much of the problem comes when food is processed to remove much of the nutrients, and added sugars are piled into improve the taste. For soft drinks, all of the sugar is added sugar, and though they taste great they are pure empty calories. Even fruit juices with no added sugar are frowned upon by nutritionists because the high concentration of natural sugars is more than the body can stand.
In 1970, high fructose corn syrup was introduced and it rapidly became the sweetener of choice for many food processors because it was cheaper and sweeter. So while sugar consumption per capita started declining, HFCS made up for the difference. When looking for added sugars in our food, be sure to be aware of this and other sweeteners like honey and molasses that are just as problematic as table sugar. As you can see from the chart below since 2010 people seem to have been eating healthier, but we have a long way to go.
Too much sugar plays hell with your body. Immediately after consuming a sugary treat, two things happen- a hit of dopamine goes to your brain to tell you "Damn that felt good," and then your pancreas goes to work to secrete insulin so that you can absorb and get rid of the sugar to where it needs to go. Unfortunately that dopamine hit sometimes overruns the body's ability to absorb the sugar. Eventually insulin resistance builds up and the body stops accepting enough sugar. Instead, sugar builds up in the bloodstream in full-blown type 2 diabetes and causes all sorts of problems all over your body, especially your heart. Sugar is tied to obesity, inflammation, and metabolic syndrome because your body just isn't evolved to accept that much sucrose and glucose. It's almost like eating a ball of fire.
So here we are 50 years after the birth of the sugar lie, and finally people are finally recognizing the dangers of sugar in our diet. British nutritionist John Yudkin published his book Pure, White and Deadly back in 1972 and it was ignored. Since 2010 dozens more books have been published such as Sweet Poison, Sugar Crush, The Case Against Sugar, and Fat Chance- all pointing fingers at sugar and sugary drinks in particular. But when I check labels at the grocery store- added sugars are still everywhere. At least now I know to look for them.
How much sugar do doctors recommend we eat per day? The Heart Association recommends 25 grams a day for women and 36 grams for men of added sugars. That's basically one small glass of soda. This doesn't include naturally occurring sugars. A better answer is to eat only what your body will tolerate at a healthy weight and blood sugar level. Every person is a bit different. I'm giving up a lot of added sugars, but keeping my ice cream habit as much as I can. Because life is too short to not have just a tiny bit of sweetness in it. We just need to get the balance back.
I feel a bit like Pinocchio who was coaxed onto Pleasure Island by people promising fun with no consequences. My big belly is my consequence, like the boys who turned into donkeys after realizing they were lied to. We were all lied to, and will continue to have to dig for the truth about our foods. We all deserve to be healthy- don't settle for anything less!