Too much sugar leads to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. It dries out our skin and ages us. It’s poisonous and food companies are denying the negative effects while driving us all to an early grave.
Too Much Sugar
In the television series Mad Men, Madison Avenue advertising executives undermine public health by glamming smoking up in the media. But at least they practiced what they preached, lounging in offices hazy with smoke from interminable Lucky Strikes.
A sequel could be made today with Big Tobacco replaced by Big Sugar as grotesquely obese executives dream up ways to make the public think sugar isn’t unhealthy to consume, while they personally gorge themselves on too much sugar, eating cupcakes, cookies, and soft drinks.
The similarities are remarkable. Sixty years ago the tobacco industry denied the health risks from smoking despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Today, sugar manufacturers and their distributors spend millions of dollars on DC lobbyists and PR firms to prevent scientists from coming right out and saying it:
Sugar can kill.
Then there are studies that underscore the addictive quality of sugar. Yes, rats prefer sugar to cocaine 93 percent of the time. Does this mean sugar is more addictive than cocaine?
An Australian study published this past April in the international research journal PLOS ONE concluded that drugs used to treat nicotine addiction could be used to treat sugar addiction in animals. And, withdrawal from chronic sugar consumption is similar to going “cold turkey” from drugs.
According to Neuroscientist Selena Bartlett, lead author of the study, excess sugar consumption elevates dopamine levels that control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers in a way that is similar to many drugs of abuse including tobacco, cocaine, and morphine. Long-term consumption of sugar leads to a reduction in dopamine levels, which induces people to consume higher amounts of sugar to achieve the same level of reward.
Addiction At Its Finest
Cardiovascular researcher, James DiNicolantonio, has also compared refined sugar to cocaine, referring to it as a white crystal extracted from sugar cane rather than coca leaves.
Personal trainer and author of Beating Sugar Addiction for Dummies, Dan DeFigio has seen his share of lumpy sugar bodies. DeFigio warns that you know you have a sugar addiction when you suffer extreme fatigue or have trouble concentrating without it.
“Another telltale sign is you find yourself obsessing over what your next sweet treat will be, says DeFigio. “Or you repeatedly eat too much sugar even though you promise yourself you will never do it again.”
There is also evidence that sugar can have the same negative consequences as alcoholism.
Scientists now believe that one of the most common types of sugar, fructose, which is the kind of sugar we find in all fruits, can be toxic to the liver.
In its natural state, fructose is not a problem. But manufactures are now extracting fructose from beets and sugarcane, removing the fiber and nutrients in the process. This super concentrated form of fructose is added to everything from table sugar to corn syrup. Without fiber to slow it down, researchers believe this type of fructose mainlining is more than bodies were designed to handle.
Soft drinks are the worst. This liquid form of fructose, especially on an empty stomach, slams the liver much like what happens when too much alcohol is consumed.
An estimated 31 percent of American adults and 13 percent of children suffer from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The disease is often characterized by a “sugar belly,” stomach fat that occurs when the liver detects more fructose than can be used by the body for energy.
As with pre-Surgeon General warnings about tobacco, there have been voices no one listened to calling out the dark side of sugar. In 1972 when sugar was still all sweetness, a British professor named John Judkin published Pure, White and Deadly about the dangers of sugar.
While Judkin’s book received scant attention 44 years ago, it is now considered prophetic by many, including Robert Lustig, professor of pediatric endocrinology at the University of California.
“Everything this man said in 1972 was the God’s honest truth,” Lustig was quoted as saying in The Telegraph.
Lustig himself has his share of acolytes from a 2009 lecture he posted on YouTube called “Sugar: the Bitter Truth.” The talk received more than 4 million hits and is seen by some as the genesis of the anti-sugar-movement that calls for sugar to be treated as a toxin akin to like alcohol and tobacco.
So How Much Sugar Is Too Much?
Up to 25 percent of your daily calories can now come from added sugar, according to the U.S. Institute of Medicine.
Many scientists and even mainstream physicians like Morten E. Travel believe that is way too much. Travel, Clinical Professor Emeritus, points to a study showing that people who got 17 to 21 percent of their calories from added sugars had nearly a 40 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who kept their intake of sugar at or below eight percent.
Travel said this data is at the root of the American Heart Association’s recommendation that sugar be kept in this lower eight 8 percent range. This amounts to a daily intake of six6 teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men.
“But achieving these targets are challenging,” says Travel.
Indeed. A frozen stir-fry dinner can contain the same amount of sugar as 16 gummie bears (five teaspoons). A slice of whole-wheat bread can have almost one teaspoon.
“Food companies add sugar to almost three-quarters of all packaged products including nutritious-sounding items,” reports Travel.
Watch Sugar: The Bitter Truth
Tipping the Sugar Scale
Twelve years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a document called “TRS 916,” recommending that less than 10 percent of your daily calories should come from added sugar, with the understanding that zero percent was the objective since our bodies produce enough glucose from starches and carbohydrates.
Sugar industry lobbyists didn’t like that report, which prompted the secretary of health and human services to fly to Geneva and deliver this message: Publish the report and the U.S. government will withhold $406 million in funding.
And so it goes. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates the average American is consuming more sugar than ever, between 150 and 170 pounds a year. While human bottoms expand, so does the sugar industry’s bottom line. By 2017, yearly profits are expected to hit $97 billion.
Without serious health warnings, Big Sugar continues to enjoy sweet success. And besides, like smoking, it’s hard to convince consumers that something people enjoy so much is not good for them. Or maybe it’s just the addiction talking.
As ”Mad Men’s” Don Draper might say:
“This is the greatest advertising opportunity since the invention of cereal.”
Thomas Ropp is a longtime journalist, environmental advocate and proponent of living healthier. After spending most of his life in Arizona, he relocated to a Costa Rican rainforest 10 years ago.
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