SUGAR: Not so “sweet” after all

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a post by sallenrd

Walk with me, if you will, through your favorite local grocery store. As we stroll today we are going to mentally delete the items in this store that contain added sugar. First, we come to the produce section, rich with colorful fruits and vegetables, of which we may pick 2 or 3 to take home. Nothing to delete here, but we probably should fill 50% or more of our cart space with items from this section and we usually pass straight through. Next we approach the deli with its meats and cheeses. Perhaps we pass a salad bar and a kiosk with specialty cheeses from around the world, and maybe a few varieties of olives. Again, not much to delete. Then we come to the bread. Loaf after loaf of all different shapes and flavors, all with added sugars and some containing high fructose corn syrup. On an adjacent aisle we find the nut butters and jams with even more added sugars. DELETE! Only a few jars of nut butters remain, like the peanut butter whose only ingredient is peanuts. Imagine that!   It’s almost as rare as butter made from just cream!

As we round the corner into the next aisle we catch a glimpse of all the pre-assembled children’s lunch items in their fancy packaging made to look like presents and loaded with sugar. DELETE. As we walk the first aisle we can hit DELETE on the following…..everything except the vinegars, dried beans, most mustards and tobasco sauce…DELETE canned fruits, dried fruits, condiments, salad dressings, canned vegetables, boxed grains. DELETE, DELETE, DELETE. Turning to the next aisle, DELETE the pasta sauces, salsas, soups, can after can of pasta meals with “fun shaped” noodles and meatballs….Yes, if you read the labels you will see several grams of added sugars whose only purpose is to create desirable textures in the mouth (more on that later). And, although plain pastas and rice do not contain added sugar they turn to sugar very quickly during digestion and the effects on the body are much the same. On to the cereals, bars, boxed breakfast items, syrups, juices and sports drinks. DELETE! Again, though 100% fruit juices do not contain added sugars, they contain too much sugar and none of the fiber that slows down its digestion. NOTE: organic white rice is a safe starch to be consumed in moderation that will in turn feed bifido bacteria (the good guys) in the gut.

I won’t drag this on any further. Who has this much time to spend in a grocery store, much less imagining being in one? I think you get the picture. Think about it the next time you grocery shop. There is added sugar in 80% of the food items stocking the shelves of your grocery store. And the food industry has done a very good job of making your kids beg for it. They sweeten everything. Just imagine how bare the shelves would be without it.

HELPFUL HINT: Wondering how much sugar you are actually eating or drinking when the unit “grams” doesn’t make sense? When looking at a food label check for the number of grams of sugar in one serving and divide that number by 4.2. The resulting number will be the number of teaspoons of sugar in that serving. For example, General Mill’s Reese’s Puffs cereal contains 15.9 g of sugar in a 1 cup serving. 15.9/4.2 = 3.8. So, one cup of this cereal designed to make children love breakfast has roughly 4 teaspoons of sugar!! Ask yourself this: If you were going to give a child a cup of any plain cereal (like Cheerios) would you put 4 teaspoons of sugar on it to guarantee they like it? And what about all the Gatorade children are drinking now? In 12 oz. of Gatorade (the tiny bottle) there are 21 grams of sugar (4 teaspoons!) Would you add 4 teaspoons of sugar to 12 oz. of water before handing it to a child to drink?

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Sugar: Our addictions may not be our fault

In his book Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us Michael Moss discusses the disturbing truths behind our addiction to sugars and processed foods. There are 2 things that major food manufacturers rely heavily upon for their outrageous profit margins: “bliss point” and “mouth feel”. Mouth feel is the texture of a product that you experience when you first put it in your mouth. According to Australian psychologist Robert McBride, most of us purchase foods based on ”how we expect them to feel and taste in our mouths. We usually do not purchase foods based on their nutritional value.” Mouth feel is the result of 2 major players on the ingredient list: fat and, you guessed it, sugar. When one of these ingredients is removed in part (or completely), it is replaced by the other—for mouth feel. Face it. If Pillsbury cinnamon rolls were the texture of cardboard you wouldn’t eat them.

Bliss point is that sensation of “happy” that you feel when you eat your favorite processed foods. It is the exact level of sweetness that makes food most pleasurable as it stimulates your brain in the same way it would have been stimulated had you tried cocaine instead. Eric Stice at the Oregon Research Institute has done several studies using functional MRI scans of the brains of individuals consuming a sugary liquid much like soda. When MRIs from these individuals are compared to individuals using cocaine the images are the same.

Food manufacturers spend millions of dollars each year on research to determine the mouth feel and bliss point that will most appeal to consumers. Much of this research is conducted at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. Michael Moss cites one such study involving children and pudding.   The test began with 24 small cups of vanilla pudding with varying degrees of sweetness and a 6-year-old girl named Tatyana. The puddings were presented in pairs and Tatyana was asked which she preferred. [Incidentally, Tatyana was also asked what her favorite cereal is. This information was to be used as a reference point for her sugar preferences. Her answer, “Cinnamon Crunch!”] For the experiment, Tatyana first tasted one pudding, drank a sip of water, and then tasted the other and reported which tasted “best” between the two. After 2 dozen cups of pudding it was determined that Tatyana’s bliss point for sugar was 24%. This data was to be compiled with the results from several other study subjects and a very precise amount of sugar will be added to the pudding in order to guarantee sales.

Change the focus: It’s not about weight anymore

Our addiction to sugar has been purposefully created by big business and has majorly impacted our health, not just our waistline. Sugar is cheap and abundant and acts as a great “filler” for foods that are to be boxed and sold. Unfortunately, as consumers we have become most obsessed with how much we weigh and not how healthy we are. Individuals of normal weight can be just as ill. Sugar has been implicated as playing a major role in most leading causes of death including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and dyslipidemia.

  • Sugar consumption is a major player in the health of our gut. Not only does increased consumption lead to damage of the intestinal wall and leaky gut, but it also feeds the unhealthy bacteria residing within our gut leading to gut dysbiosis. Several studies have shown that in some overweight or obese individuals their “bad” bacteria far outnumber the “good” whereas in normal weight individuals the opposite is true.
  • In a study conducted by Dr. Sanjay Basu, et al, it was shown consumption of an additional 150 kcal/day resulted in an increased risk for development of type 2 diabetes of 0.1%. However, if the additional calories were from soda the risk rose to 1.1%, an 11-fold increase.
  • Research by Kimber Stanhope at UC Davis showed that increased consumption of sugar causes the liver to be overloaded with fructose. This fructose is subsequently converted to fat, some of which ends up in the blood as “small, sticky LDL” particles known to cause lesions in blood vessels leading to plaque build-up and heart disease.
  • According to Lewis Cantley, director of the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School, as much as 80 percent of all cancers are “driven by either mutations or environmental factors that work to enhance or mimic the effect of insulin on the incipient tumor cells.” When we consume sugar, or foods that are rapidly converted to sugar during digestion, an insulin response is triggered which can have adverse effects on various cells in the body. One third of cancer cells have insulin receptors at their surface. When insulin attaches to these receptors the cell may be triggered to begin consuming glucose. This gives the cell energy and may allow it to grow.

SUGAR: Swinging the pendulum back to health

Hundreds of years ago humans ate what was available.   Meat from free-roaming animals who ate wild plants. Produce from whatever plants were able to grow in the climate in which they resided. Even when farming began humans ate what they could grow or hunt for. Nothing came in a box. Ingredients were recognizable. And sugar was difficult to come by.

As food manufacturers stepped up to the plate (pardon the pun) to create more “convenient” options our health started to take a turn for the worse. Eric Stice points out that as we consume more and more sugar our brains build up a tolerance to it and our feelings of “bliss” become blunted. In order to feel pleasure from the sugar in our foods we eat more and more sugary options. In the 1970s it was determined that saturated fats were the leading cause of heart disease and played a major role in the declining health of our society. Food manufacturers responded by removing many of the fats in our foods and replacing them with….sugar! (Remember? Mouth feel?) Even back then, oatmeal and yogurt didn’t contain the amount of sugar than they do now. Let’s think about what Eric Stice has said….we eat sugar, we become tolerant of it, and we eat more sugar.

Before I became smarter about my diet I enjoyed eating Special K Protein Plus. I liked cereal, but cereal is notoriously lacking in protein. This particular Special K was low’ish in sugar (4g/serving) and had added protein to suit my breakfast needs. The last box I purchased I threw in the trash. As I tasted my first bite of that last bowl of cereal I practically choked on the amount of sugar that was in my mouth. I grabbed the box only to see “New Better Taste” written across the front. I checked the Nutrition Facts to find that the sugar per serving had doubled and the fiber had been lowered. I wrote to Kellogg’s to express my disappointment. Their response? “We are responding to complaints from customers that the taste of this product was not sweet enough. We are sorry for your disappointment, but our customers are very important to us.” ….we eat sugar, we become tolerant of it, and we eat more sugar.

Of course they are responding to customer complaints….bet that bottom dollar.

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What to do?

  • Eat real food: things that contain only one ingredient or are made from ingredients that you recognize.
  • Eat fruit for dessert.

 

  • Educate your children. They will be eating foods from sources other than your own home. Teach them about the foods that help them grow healthy and strong and the foods that are only to be eaten “sometimes.”
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners. Although they are considered “safe” by much of the research, they trick your brain into thinking you have eaten real sugar. Your brain retaliates by creating sugar cravings that you have a difficult time fighting and you end up eating the very same sugar you tried to “substitute”.

 

Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Michael Moss, 2013.

The Relationship of Sugar to Population-Level Diabetes Prevalence: An Econometric Analysis of Repeated Cross-Sectional Data Sanjay Basu et al. PLOS one. Published Feb27, 2013. E5787

Stanhope KL, Bremer AA, Medici V, et al. Consumption of fructose and high fructose corn syrup increase postprandial triglycerides, LDL-cholesterol, and apolipoprotein-B in young men and women [published online August 17, 2011]. Journal of Endocrin Metab. 2011;96(10): E1596-E1605.

Stanhope KL, Schwarz JM, Keim NL, et al. Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucosesweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. J Clin Invest. 2009;119(5):1322-1334

60 Minutes: Is Sugar Toxic? Sanjay Gupta report.

Nutr Res. 2012 Sep;32(9):637-47. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2012.07.003. Epub 2012 Sep 7. Potential mechanisms for the emerging link between obesity and increased intestinal permeability.

 Sugar: The Bitter Truth Dr. Robert Lustig http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM

 

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