The Trouble With Sugar
The trouble with sugar and carbs runs deeper than you think- some resources to help you see nutrition in a new light.
The red and green bags of candy lining store shelves, the chocolate Santas and elves, the peppermint everything has been swept away, replaced by red and pink packages containing basically the same candy, but now mostly heart-shaped and less pepperminty, to mark the approach of Valentine's day.
The cycle continues...
Sugar. We love it, gargantuan food industry conglomerates love it, but, before you grab that pillowcase-sized bag of "fun size" candy and then snag a box (or four) of Girl Scout Cookies on the way to the car, take a closer look around... Haven't you noticed the changing of the guard?
Sugar has officially replaced fat as the new enemy of good health and a fit body, and, in this age of information and widely-dispersed research, it's for real this time. And the problem goes deeper than the waistline.
Yes, we have learned that excess sugar in the body is the real driver in our obesity epidemic. And perhaps this revelation feels like common knowledge to many by now. But that feeling probably comes more from witnessing how consumer choices have begun to change the extremely competitive food market, rather than the certainty of science. Widespread scientific consensus linking sugar and carbohydrates to obesity is actually a recent and monumental shift in our view of nutrition.
How did we miss this one?
While cell phones and the internet were being born, the science on the food side of things seemed to equate to- if you eat too much fat you get fat, duh. A tidal wave of low-fat, no-fat, reduced-fat and fat-free products washed over every aisle of the supermarket. There was even that rather embarrassing attempt at synthetic fat, Olestra; thanks FDA.
Well, food producers couldn't replace all that fat with air. Mostly, it was replaced with carbohydrates, which, whoops, were making people fatter. It's the ultimate irony. America's obsession with weight-loss drove the food market to remove fat from anything and everything, which made people fatter.
Sugars and carbohydrates serve an important purpose; they give us access to quick energy. When we are performing intense physical activity, like jogging down the driveway to pick up our latest packages from Amazon, or doing hot yoga, we burn those carbs. But, when sugars and carbs dominate our intake, most of us are simply not active enough to burn it all, so the body goes ok! maybe later... and stores it as fat, just in case things get real next winter, or we decide to take up fasting and triathalons at the same time.
Worse, there are also strong links between sugar and inflammation in the body, which can open the door wider to all sorts of life-threatening conditions, including heart disease, cancer and even Alzheimer's. Dr. Richard Jacoby's book, Sugar Crush, takes a revealing look at this connection, how to reverse it, and even offers a test for you to see how excess sugar is affecting you.
Sugar Crush is a great companion to the shocking and popular book, Grain Brain, by neurologist David Perlmutter, MD. Grain Brain not only reveals how much nutrition impacts the brain, but also shows how much better our brains can function with the right nutrition (there is hope!). As noted in the book, high-carb and sugar intake is connected to "dementia, ADHD, anxiety, chronic headaches, depression, decreased libido, and much more." From the book jacket:
Groundbreaking and timely, Grain Brain shows that the fate of your brain is not in your genes, it's in the food you eat. Dr. Perlmutter explains what happens when your brain encounters common ingredients...how statins may be erasing your memory, why a diet high in "good fats" is ideal, and how to spur the growth of new brain cells at any age. And his revolutionary 4-week plan will show you how to keep your brain healthy and sharp while dramatically reducing your risk for debilitating neurological disease -- without drugs.
The final crime on the sugar/carb rap sheet is the most insidious. It's also likely the reason many still roll their eyes and scoff at the pile of evidence. Foods high in sugar and/or carbs are highly addictive. When we consume sugar, dopamine is released in our brains, just like with most addictive drugs. We feel good, and we feel motivated to eat more. The more we consume, the more we want, and the more we need in order to feel that rush of dopamine.
And that's the interesting thing about dopamine; we often think of it as a feel-good chemical in the brain, but dopamine's real role is as our motivator. When decidedly cruel scientists remove a mouses' ability to produce dopamine, the mouse can still feel pleasure, but it stops wanting anything. In fact, the mouse won't even move, eat or drink. There's a lot more information out there on the sugar addiction to explore- this brief healthline article/video is a good starting point- it sheds more light on how the sugar addiction works in the body.
If you want to dive deeper into sugar's history of crime and deceit, The Case Against Sugar is an accessible and fascinating look at all facets of the issue, including America's history with sugar, how it got so rooted in our lives, and why it is making us sick and overweight. The best line from the book's many glowing reviews has to be this one- "Compelling... Perhaps at long last, sugar is getting its just desserts." Nice one, Economist.
Raise your hand if you have eaten just one Girl Scout Cookie and put the box away. Exactly. Are food companies aware of the addictive nature of sugar and carbs? You bet. And they've been slipping them into just about everything for years. The good news is that you can re-wire your brain to enjoy, savor, and look-forward to eating in a healthier and more satisfying way.
The Paleo movement was on the leading edge of this shift in our understanding of nutrition, way before it was cool. Paleo eating includes replacing carbs and processed sugars with good fats, proteins, fibers and foods that are naturally sweet. That's why our Paleo Eats Bars get their protein, fiber and good fats from nuts, dates, seeds, and coconut oil, as well as natural sweetness from coconut, raw honey and a hint of maple syrup.
Change is hard. But so is being overweight, sick, foggy and distractible. Here's a fun read about just how hard going gluten-free can be- In Memory of Bread is Paul Graham's humorous memoir about a lifestyle full of gluten- brewing beer with buddies, enjoying his wife's fresh-baked bread, gorging on pasta and pizza, that is rudely interrupted by a diagnosis of celiac disease. Graham has to find a way to revise much of his life, and also educates the reader as he begins researching the history of grain, how it has changed over the years, and why celiac is on the rise.
On some level, we probably knew it all along. There's a reason that power-eating a whole box of chocolates while repeating the mantra just one more... is not something we choose to do in front of others.
It's the depth and severity of the problem that books like these are now bringing to light, as well as, thankfully, simple, satisfying ways to live differently.