**This post is part one of many posts to come regarding sugar. It is my biggest “real food” challenge, and I’ve found that I am not alone. There is so much to talk about regarding the way sugar interacts with our lives. Let me be clear, I’m not telling anyone what to do. I’m sharing my experiences, the information I’ve found to be helpful. I hope to build a community here at Lean.Green.Kitchen where we can all be supported in our real (good) food efforts. No more, no less. You get to play around with all this food out in the world to find what works best for your body and makes sense for your life. You’ll find no judgement from me.
This blog post started out as a book review, but I realized that the whole point of the book was not to be reviewed, but to be used as knowledge in our quest for health. And it is time to start talking about sugar. So this is where I ended up…
We all have that friend who doesn’t like sweets. You know, the one who has no problem saying no to the cake at kids’ birthday parties, the box of Girl Scout Cookies they bought just to be supportive, the donuts in the break room. Maybe you are that person, you lucky dog. If so, you can stop reading, or maybe you should keep reading to better understand what is going on with the rest of us.
Most of us surrounded by the American diet can’t get enough sugar. It’s the caregivers addiction, as we can continue to function in society while still consuming massive quantities of the stuff. Sugar is in everything and it’s cheap and convenient so we can go about our day and have no awareness of how much we have ingested from our morning meal through our late night snacks. Many of us provide our children with a “small treat” after most meals and snacks (most of the meals and snacks are already fully loaded with added sugar!)
Some of us have heard the warnings, seen the infographics on Facebook, and watched the TV news show specials. Maybe we’ve taken the big step of knocking soda out of our diet and cleaned up the kids’ after school snacks. Or even cut out the white stuff, finding substitutes of “natural” sweeteners like organic cane juice, agave, and honey. Is it enough?
-MY TRAGIC LOVE STORY WITH SUGAR-
THE RELATIONSHIP - Sugar and I met early in life and I’m sure it was love at first bite. The first few decades of our relationship I had no concept of the problems brewing. I’ve always been super active and had access to healthy foods that, thinking back, probably provided some protection from the amounts of sugar I was consuming. At the same time, like others looking back at bad relationships, I wonder how that sugar load may have taken its toll without my even realizing it. Acne, allergies, lethargy, PMS, anxiety… would they have been such issues if I had found a clean lifestyle earlier? Over the past five years I have become fascinated with food and nutrients and the complexities of individual bodies and what fuels them. This has motivated me over the years to use myself as a guinea pig to tweak what I eat to see what happens. And to look sugar square in the eye.
THE BREAKUP – Reading Robert Lustig’s book, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease, gave me the information/motivation I needed for my love affair with sugar (that was already on the rocks) to go through a tragic breakup. The book makes it clear that fructose is a toxin that the body can’t handle over a certain dose (and it’s a very small dose especially when there’s no fiber around to help). And fructose includes even those unrefined (or less refined) sugars that I’d been playing with for a while. It’s a messy break-up (which makes sense, because it was a messy relationship in the first place) because we are still forced to see each other, and I still have feelings for sugar, and we still hang out a little… sometimes.
CAN WE STILL BE FRIENDS? – Today, I don’t stress too much about taking in a small amount of sugar a day. Lustig shares that 50g of fructose per day is the threshold for toxicity in the body. That works out to a very small amount of maple syrup or honey each day to sweeten things up. Honey and maple syrup are my sweeteners of choice because they have minerals and micronutrients, and are truly unrefined. I also find I can eat them both and not be craving more and more sugar, like when I consume white sugar. A tiny handful of dark chocolate chips sometimes top my bowl of strawberries after dinner. And I also make my body work a little overtime for a “real” special treat every once in a while at social events or for a family fun night.
In order to not go over my daily maximum grams of sugar (I aim to keep it under 50g), I do not drink any soda or juice. Lustig shares that fruit without its fiber is processed by the body just like sugar – though with some nutrients along for the ride. And almost every processed food is out as well. Check out some labels, they put sweeteners in practically every processed food. And it is all those grams, day after day that are making our population sick. Some people are getting really sick and need lots of extra care. Other people are functioning, but nowhere near their best. To me, that’s the real tragedy. How much more tired, depressed, stressed, unhappy with our bodies, overly medicated we are because our bodies are constantly working overtime to process this toxic load? It’s not worth it anymore for me.
You can read Robert Lustig’s book, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease if you’d like. In fact I think it should be required reading in every high school health class. But let’s face it, most of us have a long list of books we’d like to read and if you add this to the list, you might get to it by the holidays. And then this will not be the kind of book you want to read during the holidays and – boom – you aren’t reading it until next January. That’s too long to wait for the simple (though possibly painful) and clear conclusions to Lustig’s work. So here’s the abridged version of what you could do today to make your life better and longer and healthier.
- Eat real food. Cut out as much processed food as you possibly can from your daily life.
- Consume the smallest amount of foods with added sweeteners (that includes all of them!) that you can.
- Consume foods that have fiber.
- Consume foods that have micronutrients.
- Exercise to build muscle.
- Eat/exercise for health, not for weight loss. Unhealthy people come in all body shapes and sizes.
There is so much more to this book, including:
- a full explanation of Lustig’s motto of “a calorie is not a calorie.”
- scientific details of the many different hormonal pathways that lead to obesity and chronic disease.
- thoughtful testimony of how blaming obese people for their weight is really unfair and damaging and not accurate.
- the reason he feels sugar should be seen as an addictive substance.
He ends the book with possible public health solutions to our nation’s obesity and related disease epidemic and then shares how unlikely it is that any of them will be implemented. His voice is like a good doctor’s (he’s a pediatric endocrinologist), full of compassion and expertise, with a strong commitment to empowering people’s real lives with his scientific research results.
You get the feeling Robert Lustig will do whatever it takes to get out this information and he’s especially fighting for today’s children. I couldn’t appreciate it more. And I want to be a part of getting his word out. It just might change this tragic story that is unfolding across the United States right now. We could all do with clarifying our relationship with sugar.
Robert Lustig Resource Links:
Still Believe ‘A Calorie Is a Calorie?’ (Huffington Post Article)
Sugar: The Bitter Truth (90 minute You Tube video)
The Skinny on Obesity (Seven short You Tube videos)
Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease (Book)