My stepmom was right after all…
When I was a teenager in the 1960’s, my stepmother would rail about the evils of sugar. She believed that sugar was a nutritional evil that was the cause of a wide range of ills. At the time, we all thought she was nuts. What’s wrong with sugar?
Needless to say, during the 60’s processed foods were in their infancy. I don’t remember eating fresh vegetables except maybe a little iceberg lettuce here and there garnished with rock hard tomato slices. TV dinners were the rage—metal trays with little compartments with frozen turkey, gravy, potatoes, and apple crisp that could be heated in the oven in 20 minutes. Viola! Dinner is served. My mother thought it was heaven.
But it turns out that my stepmom was ahead of her time. In a recent article “Sugar Season. It’s Everywhere, and Addictive” in the New York Times December 22, 2014, the authors details the connection between sugar consumption and disease. Sugar is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and kidney disease. It’s no joke.
The authors note—“Up until just a few hundred years ago, concentrated sugars were essentially absent from the human diet—besides, perhaps the fortuitous find of small quantities of wild honey”. It just wasn’t very available in nature. It could be found in dilute forms in fruits and vegetables. From an evolutionary perspective, humans are endowed with strong desire for sugar, which would help us layer on fat for scarce times.
But today, sugar can be found in practically everything that is packaged. Start pulling stuff out of your freezer and fridge and look at the ingredients—sugar or high fructose corn syrup—and sometimes both! The average American eats between ¼ to ½ pound of sugar a day! And sugar is concentrated in a way that it does not come in nature. Wonderful foods like beets are “stripped of their water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial components to produce…pure, while, sugar crystals”.
And, as most parents will tell you, these sugary crystals are addictive. Like other drugs, it produces cravings, tolerance, and withdrawal. Kids get a sugar high on Halloween and then crash and burn around bedtime! The authors cite one study where rats will choose sugar over cocaine in lab settings! Other studies show that pleasure centers of the brain light up after consuming those yummy treats.
During the holiday season, friends and relatives bring in pounds of these treats and lay them out on the table. It’s hard to pass on those delicious looking baked goods. Don’t you notice that when you have one cookie, you want another? —And then one more? It’s hard to stop, once you get started. The holiday 5 pounds that are packed on in December don’t come from the turkey, ham, or potatoes.
It’s no wonder that societies that eat large quantities of processed foods suffer from staggering rates of obesity. Combining these high calorie foods with lack of physical activity creates the perfect storm of chronic health conditions.
So what can we do?
- Read labels. I love that Starbucks shows how many calories are in a blueberry muffin! When I see how many calories are stuffed into a donut or a piece of banana bread (Come on, is that really bread!), I take a deep breath, and walk on by the bakery case.
- Make incremental change. Foregoing carbonated beverages with sugar is a low hanging fruit for weight loss. A 12-ounce can of Coke has 140 calories! Better to substitute no calorie diet beverages.
- Don’t have the stuff around. I love ice cream! But I don’t have it in the house. If I want an ice cream, I’m going to have go out and get one. At least I will have to walk a few yards from my house to the car!
- Don’t use sugar as a reward. I know it’s tough. Kids crave it. Adults crave it. It’s an easy bribe. But think—would you give your kids drugs as a reward for good behavior? Parental time is a far better reward in the long run.
What do you do in your home to beat the sugar blues?