“I could never stop eating it.”
“I just crave it.”
“I don’t really care that much – I feel fine, so it can’t be that bad, right?”
“If it’s allowed in our food, it must be safe.”
“I am not overweight, so what does it matter?”
“I work out a lot, so I think it all evens out in the end.”
Ignorant of Basic Nutrition
The above are common statements when it comes to looking at our diet and nutrition. We go to school until we’re 18 and learn about all kinds of important subjects. We learn to read and write, to spell, to do basic math. These are all skills we will need in life. But we are not taught anything about nutrition, health, or disease. How is it possible that we can grow up, move out of the house, live on our own, and even start our own families without understanding something as fundamental as how to feed and nourish ourselves? Don’t feel judged — I am putting myself in this very same category.
As a result, most of us deal with chronic health issues to one degree or another. Our country has obese toddlers. Poverty stricken neighbors can’t afford fresh vegetables and fruit. The pharmaceutical industry only gains more billions every year. Living in a country obsessed with appearance and looks, we are failing to prevent disease. People like to talk about how expensive it is to shop at stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, but then don’t consider how expensive chronic illness is. Prescription meds (unless you can get the generic version) are very expensive, not to mention missed days of work, doctor visits, insurance premiums, and plain just not feeling well.
If you have ever had a family member or close friend struggle with alcoholism, you know personally the toll that alcohol can take on the physical body. You also see how addiction can slowly destroy a life. This may seem like an odd side tangent but it will make sense in a minute.
Some Professional Insight
There is a guy named Dr. Robert Lustig whose research I have come across and want to shout from the rooftops. I want to share a little bit of what he has said, since he’s got the medical degree, research, and intelligence to back it up. See my favorite video of his here.
If you are having trouble following along with the video as you watch, I also have my notes from his main points here. He gets into a LOT of chemistry that is a bit over my head so I tried to condense it the best I could.
Why Is Sugar So Bad?
According to Dr. Lustig, we have an epidemic going on right now. The annual US consumption of high fructose corn syrup (not even including all the other sweeteners out there) is 63lbs per person. Before WWI, we got most of our fructose from whole fruits and vegetables, which meant we ate around 30 grams of sugar per day from natural sources. HFCS came into the market in 1977, and we jumped to 37 grams/day. Now, we eat 70 grams of sugar per day, on average. Many people eat much more than that. Including other sources of sugar, Americans eat 141 lbs of sugar per year per person.
If you look at the environmental and political history of sugar, including HFCS, you’ll get mad. At least I did. So I am going to skip over that and go straight to the science, which will answer why sugar is so bad for us. To understand exactly what sugar is, watch the video or click here. Sugar = 50% fructose + 50% glucose. I will be referring to “sugar” as fructose in the rest of this article because glucose is not the problem here.
Remember the alcoholic family member or friend I was talking about earlier? Well, someone who is addicted to alcohol is very similar to someone who is addicted to sugar/fructose. And if you don’t like the word “addicted,” then substitute “someone who eats sugar regularly.”
Let’s compare alcohol and fructose. I am simply paraphrasing what Dr. Lustig said in the video link above, so none of this is my personal opinion.
Alcohol (ethanol) gets metabolized in the brain, so it has been defined as an “acute” toxin. When you drink too much alcohol, you get drunk. You experience decreased blood pressure, loss of fine motor control, low blood sugar, etc. The reason this happens is because ethanol is processed by your brain and so you experience neurological deficits temporarily. Too much ethanol causes cirrhosis of the liver. There are laws against drunk driving. We tax alcohol. The general consensus is that it’s okay in moderate doses, but anyone who abuses alcohol is not only harming their body but their relationships as well.
Moving onto sugar/fructose.
Fructose can only be metabolized by the liver. When we are exposed to too much fructose, we don’t feel drunk like we would with alcohol because it’s not metabolized by the brain. So you don’t get blurry vision or shaky balance or throw up. However, sugar/fructose is defined as a “chronic” toxin. It won’t make you acutely sick like too much alcohol will, but it will make you chronically sick.
Symptoms Chronic Alcohol Exposure + Chronic Fructose Exposure Have In Common:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
- Hepatic dysfunction (liver disease)
- Fetal alcohol syndrome/fetal insulin resistance
So we don’t have the same social stigma attached to eating too much sugar/fructose as we do to getting drunk, but the way each affects our bodies are similar. Dr. Lustig likes to call fructose “alcohol without the buzz.” Fructose is considered a chronic toxin, but food companies make no effort to minimize sugar content in foods. And now we get back into the political fray – the FDA conveniently only regulates “acute” toxins like alcohol and tobacco, not “chronic” toxins like sugar/fructose. The USDA won’t touch this issue with a ten foot pole because that would mean admitting the FOOD being sold to consumers is the problem. Then we can’t export our food anymore because we’ve labeled it as toxic or unhealthy.
Moving on from the corruption that’s going on in our system….hopefully you can understand why there are so many people blowing the whistle on sugar today. It’s not just another fad in nutrition, like eating “low-fat” or a new diet plan. It is a very real problem that needs to be addressed. If your family member or friend is getting drunk regularly and you’re watching the effect it’s having on them physically and mentally, you are witnessing the destructive power of addiction. I think it’s time to wake up and see how destructive sugar is, not only physically but emotionally and mentally as well.
I understand this is a sensitive issue. And it’s really easy to look at the research and say, “Yes, I believe sugar is bad.” But it’s really hard to say no to sugar, make healthier choices, and start paying attention and CARING about what you’re eating. I know the science and I know what the research says and I still have a hard time going to a party with cake or walking past chocolate in the store. Knowing the truth doesn’t make it any easier sometimes. But I got sick of feeling sick all the time and I decided to try doing something different. Minimizing the sugar in my diet has been emotional, difficult, and sometimes it feels impossible. But it has been worth it. And I can’t help telling other people what I know, because I know the reality of the choices we make and how our food affects us.