Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched many health and food related documentaries that focus on sugar and how it affects our bodies. After watching, That Sugar Film, Forks Over Knives, and Fed Up, I found a few re-occurring messages that I think are worth sharing.
Not All Calories Are Created Equal
I feel that we were all taught to count calories because somewhere down the road someone lied to us. Yes, calories are forms of energy and if you eat more energy than you use, you will gain weight. But what they didn’t tell you is that not all calories are created equal. A calorie of sugar and a calorie of protein do not act the same in your body. It’s about the quality of the calorie. This was shown in That Sugar Film when Damon Gameau conducts an experiment on himself and what happens when he consumes a high sugar diet. The catch is that his “high sugar diet” does not consist of eating direct sugars like ice cream, candy bars, etc. Instead, he eats what is marketed in supermarkets as “healthy”. He eats the “healthy” energy bar, the typical store bought cereal, a glass of orange juice in the morning, the list goes on. But even with his emphasis on “healthy” foods, he consumes 40 grams of sugar each day. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but what is even more alarming is that the typical American consumes more than 40 grams of sugar a day. To put things in perspective, one serving of Honey Nut Cheerios, 3/4ths a cup, contains roughly two and a half teaspoons of sugar. Now I don’t know about you, but I definitely eat more than one serving of Cheerios at a time. So, when you think about it, how much sugar are you eating at breakfast alone?
Sugar Code Names
Agave, high fructose corn syrup, sugar cane, cane crystal, anhydrous dextrose… I could go on, but yes, those are all names for sugar. If I saw anhydrous dextrose on a food label I wouldn’t know what that is, and that’s exactly what the food industry wants. They don’t want you to know about the sugar you’re consuming because if you do, you might stop eating those products. Sugar is addicting, so the more they can pack into each product and the less you know, the more likely you are to continually buy those products. My biggest advice here is to do your research before buying. But if all else fails, abide by this rule, “If you can’t pronounce the words on the label or don’t know what it is, then don’t eat it.”
Low Fat = High Sugar
Do you remember when “low fat” was a huge craze in grocery stores? To some extent it still is, but I was probably in elementary or middle school when I saw this big change take place. People were afraid of fat because that was supposedly what was making America fat and causing so many diseases. Well, that was all a lie. Fat in foods is not the leading cause of health diseases or what is making America obese, it’s sugar. Now don’t get me wrong, too much of anything is bad for you, so too many fatty foods can’t be good for your health. But if you read the advertising label on any product that says “low fat” and then check the sugar content on the nutrition label, that number tells you all you need to know.
For “low fat” foods to taste good, companies add sugar. But when simple sugars are in your body they break down into two forms, glucose and fructose. Glucose can be used to feed your cells, but generally speaking, our bodies don’t know what to do with fructose. Long story short, and skipping the scientific jargon, fructose turns into fat, which can lead to plaque buildup and visceral fat. If you didn’t know, visceral fat is the fat that is stored around your abdomen and surrounds a number of important organs, compromising their health and functionality. On the other hand, plaque buildup thickens and stiffens your artery walls, slowing blood flow through your veins and is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is also the leading killer in the world. So maybe the statement “Sugar is toxic” isn’t too intense, it’s accurate. Just remember when a label says “low fat” it means “high sugar” which actually means “high fat”. Crazy right!
The Bliss Point
It’s that perfect combination of salt, sugar, and fat that has you coming back for more. It’s called the bliss point and almost all packaged and processed foods have one. You know when you open a pack of your favorite guilty pleasure and you can’t stop eating it. Well, the bliss point is in effect. At that moment, what you are eating is the perfect amount of sweet, salty, richness that triggers a reward in your brain making you want to come back for more, even after the point of satiation. This happens because dopamine is released in your brain. The bliss point can be a dangerous thing for our health and waistlines, but the food industry won’t tell you that.
Thanks to the food industry, we have gotten away from eating real food. Instead, we eat food-like products that leave us hungrier than ever before. We eat more, but are still starving; we’re over fed and under nourished. It is truly on us to be educated consumers of what we buy and eat. Do your research, learn about your health, and go with your gut (no pun intended). I’m not saying cut out sugar altogether, because I sure won’t, but keep in mind that there are so many hidden sugars out there. Just be mindful.
If’s it’s processed, it’s definitely not as “healthy” as the marketing on the label makes it seem. But also, know that the food industry, just like many other things is a business. Many of the companies that fund the research on the foods you know and love don’t want you to know the truth about their products. This is the reason why there have not been any conclusive study about how bad sugar is for our bodies. Sugar is money, and the food industry and companies can’t afford a negative conclusion on it so the verdict on sugar will remain inconclusive.
With that said, remember you have the power to vote with your dollar. If you don’t buy their products and can educate other people on the reality of sugar in those products causing them to change their consumption habits as well, in due time those companies will be forced to change. But in the meantime, remember to care about your health and do your research. You owe it to yourself!