Now that your kids have hauled in and eaten the bag of Halloween candy, and we’re looking forward to the holidays associated with overeating and drinking, we need to think about the sugar in the food we eat. We all know too much sugar isn’t good for us, but should we think of it as a poison, a drug?
There is more and more evidence that sugar in the diet is a major causative agent of the increase in obesity around the world.
Sugar comprises a greater percentage of our diet than ever before. Sugar consumption was 15 grams per day by 16 to 24 year olds prior to World War II; it is now 73 grams per day, with at least 15 % of calories from fructose. We are eating more. Our diet has increased by 187Calories per day in adult males, 335Calories per day in adult females, and 275Calories per day in teen boys over the past 25 years. The increase in calories is mostly in carbohydrates, primarily soft drinks, beer and fruit drinks.
High fructose corn syrup was thought to be the cause of the obesity epidemic, yet corn syrup is widely used only in the USA, Canada, and Japan, and has limited use in Europe. The obesity epidemic is worldwide and not limited to those countries.
Sucrose is a disaccharide, made up of glucose and fructose. High fructose corn syrup is also made with both fructose and glucose in various ratios, the most commonly used containing 55% fructose and 45% glucose- close to the 1:1 ratio found in sucrose. Glucose is the sugar which provides energy for the cells, and is the primary fuel for the brain. Sugar and high fructose corn syrup are widely used in drinks and baking. Sparing you the details of the science of metabolism, there are differences in the way the body handles glucose and fructose.
Sugar has been considered a toxin by some, including Dr. Lustig. The free dictionary.com definition of toxin is “a poisonous substance, especially a protein, that is produced by living cells or organisms and is capable of causing disease when introduced into the body tissues…” It is unavoidable. It is also abused. The more we eat, the more we want. Sugar appears to fit criteria of addiction: craving and binging, withdrawal, cross-sensitization, and tolerance. Additionally, it affects others - it is related to obesity, which in turn causes decreased work productivity, increased absenteeism, and increased cost of health care resources.
The American Heart Association recommends we decrease sugar from our present consumption of 22 teaspoonsful per day down to 9 per day for males, 6 per day for females. Avoiding sugary drinks is a great way to start.
So as you prepare that Thanksgiving feast, remember to cut back on the sugar you add to those yams, along with limiting the sugary drinks and desserts. But roast that turkey, be sure to add the vegetables, and may you enjoy a wondrous meal with family and friends.
Some helpful references
Lustig, RH et al, “Public Health: The Toxic Truth About Sugar”, Nature, 2012; 482:27-29.