Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hey Sweetie, I'm Talkin' To YOU: America's obsession with sugar (part 2)

We live in a sugar-obsessed society. On average, Americans consume 160 pounds of it, per person, per year (compared with just 5 pounds in 1900). Sugar, we are trained from babyhood, is our kind and loving companion. We call each other names like “sweetie,” “sugar,” and “honey.” Many of our milestone memories involve celebrating or consoling with sweets: milk & cookies for comfort, cake & ice cream to celebrate, bundt cakes to console, and fancy candies and treats for the holidays. Sugar sticks by us through thick and thin. Simply eating a particular treat can often trigger visceral memories of a particular event associated with it.
Sometimes, in attempting to replicate specific feelings we might rely on a special sweet to serve as an unconscious time machine, transporting us to happier times.

Sweets (and simple carbs) are a go-to energy booster for those mid-morning and mid-afternoon slumps that can appear like clockwork throughout our workweek: super-sweet coffee drinks accompany a bagel or pastry in the mornings … a candy bar and/or soda in the afternoons ... a nightcap of whatever treat we can scrounge up from the pantry. We prep for workouts with power bars and sports’ beverages while late evening work/study times are fueled with ice cream, cookies or some other quick-acting sweet boredom-fighting treat.

Even the mindful can have trouble avoiding sugar as it is found in many innocent-appearing products like jarred spaghetti sauce, catsup, peanut butter, bread, boxed cereals and yogurt, often hidden in ingredient lists through the use of multiple aliases: corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, glucose, fructose, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – also known as “corn sugar,” and more. It’s not uncommon for one product to contain several of these.

Damage from this excessive sugar consumption is resulting in the fairly obvious ever-growing American waistlines by stimulating our appetites (we get a quick energy rush when we eat our snack, but a very short time later we are hungrier than we were before, thanks to the fast rise and rapid fall of our blood sugar levels due to sugar’s super-simple structure that allows for its near instantaneous breakdown). There are the not-so-scary sounding effects of sugar like mineral depletion (digesting sugar requires minerals like nerve-soothing magnesium) and weakened immune function – which in reality ARE serious. More sobering-sounding effects of our sweet tooth include an increased risk of stroke (Willett), heightened susceptibility to pancreatic cancer (Larsson), and type-2 diabetes (Bowden) that I mentioned in my previous post. For some reason, we appear to be rather blasé about these horrible conditions, sipping soda and munching cookies as we skim through article after article proclaiming them.

We’ve become like the proverbial frogs placed into a pan of tepid water that is gradually being brought up to a boil – not realizing that we are about to be cooked until it’s too late. Casually, we accept diagnosis after diagnosis of lifestyle-related conditions. “Diabetes runs in my family,” many people passively toss out, as a reason why they’re now in a pre-diabetic state if not fully already in its throws. When seriously contemplating this argument I wonder if these people might think that the type-2 diabetics are exponentially reproducing since this disease is so rapidly on the rise. While diabetes does proliferate in some families, this is more indicative of the family culture surrounding their use and consumption of sugar (as well as other dietary and lifestyle factors). Cooking styles, taste preferences, and food habits tend to run in families MUCH more strongly than do diabetic genes.

"Okay," many say, "sugar's bad. But isn't everything going to eventually kill us?" While it's true that life is a "fatal condition," the quality and length of life is strongly determined by how well you equip yourself to survive the journey. Passivity is RARELY the route to a long, full, and robust life. The key is arming yourself with knowledge and the flexibility to be open to change.

Up next: what you can do to arm yourself against becoming a victim of this obsession.

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