Sugar just might be the world’s sweetest killer…
By Tracy Shields - In popular myth and religion, evil is often disguised as good—the wolf in sheep’s clothing, for example. Or as something tempting—a Jezebel or Delilah, or dare I say it, a piece of candy. For years, sweets have been innocently associated with children, celebration and reward: a cute little child sucking on a lollipop; a poor boy finding a gold entry ticket to the Wonka factory in a bar of chocolate; a slice of birthday cake or donut after church on Sunday. How bad can that be? At worst, I was told as a kid, if I ate too much I’d get a tummy ache. Big deal, right? And yet, study after study is now popping up with the reality that sugar is a little more evil than simple tooth decay or tummy aches. The truth is, it’s responsible for heart disease, as well as a slew of other preventable, long-term illnesses.
As sweet as it is, sugar is killing us…
An inconsistent message
Back in the ‘80s, we blamed a high-fat diet for all of our heart attacks and cardiovascular problems. Fat was the silent killer. It clogged our arteries. It raised our cholesterol. And while trans fats were and still are working their black magic, sugar was just something you needed to keep in moderation. Remember?
In fact, one of the reasons the American Heart Association has not been as successful as the Susan G. Komen for the Cure (and all those pretty pink bows for breast cancer) is because the message associated with heart disease for woman has, quite frankly, been inconsistent. First, we were told that heart disease is a “man’s disease,” then we were told that heart disease is caused by too much fat in the diet. Now we’re told it’s sugar. But what’s now convincing scientists that sugar has been the culprit all along is that when we look back at study after study of poor health markers and indicators, sugar is the one constant. At least the high-fructose corn-syrup variety (and a whole slew of other named sugars as well).
Women are at higher risk
Whatever the ultimate cause of heart disease (and it’s most likely a combination of poor diet, no exercise and stress), new research about sugar and heart disease is alarming, and there is indeed a connection. Worse yet, women seem to be the more obvious victims. According to an article in Salon.com, Riddhi Shah writes,
Women… are genetically predisposed to prefer sweeter tastes, with greater sensitivity to bitterness. As a result, cocktails and alcoholic drinks aimed at women tend to be sweet—as an attempt to mask the burn and colorful (because, you know, pink will make anything more palatable).
The author also cited that women are prone to eating sweets because of hormones, physiology and culture.
You could claim that you never eat donuts or cookies, so you’re off the hook. But so much of today’s processed, grocery-shelf foods have hidden sugars. You no longer need to eat a piece of candy to get your daily dose. A serving of Barilla pasta, for example, has 2 grams of sugar. Ritz wholewheat crackers have 4 grams, and Mott’s cinnamon applesauce has 27 grams. (Isn’t applesauce sweet enough without adding more sugar?)
Drinks are the biggest perpetrator. Glaceau Vitamin Water, as well as a regular can of Coca Cola, has 33 grams of sugar; a small McDonald’s Shamrock shake has 74 grams of sugar and one 20-ounce bottle of Sunkist orange-flavored drink has 85 grams of sugar. You’re better off eating cookies (a serving of three Oreo cookies is only 14 grams of sugar).
Fat vs. Sugar
What’s most interesting, in regard to sugar and heart disease, is that we’ve had it all wrong. Fats (at least healthy fats like omega-3s and 6s) were never the cause of heart disease. It was, and still is… sugar. This was explained to me in the viral “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” video, an 89-minute lecture by Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF, and Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology. He reminds us that the USDA made huge recommendations to cut fat out of our diet, and because of such a successful campaign, millions of us did so and went on a classic low-fat diet. Heck, everything my mother had in the house back in the late ‘80s was fat-free or low-fat. And yet the obesity epidemic got worse, diabetes became more prevalent, and so did heart disease. And what was the one constant throughout those years? Sugar.
Lustig went on to further cite that the USDA based “30 years of nutrition education and information” on one man’s poorly developed study that solely blamed fat as causing heart disease. Known as “The Seven Countries” study, it was conducted without a computer and, despite recognizing that there was a correlation between fat and sucrose, only held fat accountable and not sugar. In other words, if you consider that a donut is a bad thing to eat, and a donut has both fat and sugar, this study only blamed the fat portion of the donut as having an effect on cardiovascular disease, not sugar.
Now, however, study after study is surfacing that sugar is bad to the bone and must be taken in moderation. The American Heart Association now recommends eating only 25-30 grams of sugar daily. But that’s virtually impossible with today’s food choices. One eight-ounce glass of juice has 30-80 grams of sugar. Weight-loss drinks have 35 grams of sugar. Even what seems like a healthy yogurt drink can have 25-60 grams of sugar added.
Nearly all of our food choices have added sugar. Without knowing it, you could be on a supposed health kick but taking in 200+ grams of sugar daily!
The worst new
By far the worst to come out of all these studies is the fact that scientists are learning that sugar is toxic. The body does not recognize it; it over-taxes the liver, has zero nutritional value and, according to Lustig, even changes your body’s ability to process other foods while it weakens your immune system. Essentially sugar is poison.
With seemingly poor food choices available to us, what’s the solution? Most experts agree that it’s all about natural, raw foods and staying away from junk. Here are a few tips.
• Simplify and get back to basics. Eat more fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, seeds and other foods that can be found in their natural state. Instead of applesauce from a jar with added sugar, cut up a real apple. Heck, make your own applesauce.
• Stay away from prepackaged foods. To extend shelf life or make things taste more appealing, manufacturers add sugar to food items that don’t need it: pastas, sauces, cereals, milk etc. may all have added sugar.
• Read labels. If you are going to buy packaged foods, be sure to look for grams of sugar. The lower, the better!
• Cook at home. The more you cook at home (from scratch) the more control you have over how much sugar and fat get into your recipes. A store-bought or boxed cake mix will typically have far more sugar than one you bake at home, from scratch.
• Eat your sugar with fiber. Candy has no fiber. A donut has no fiber. A strawberry, peach, plum, apple, etc. has fiber. The more your body can recognize a food, the less you tax your liver.