Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Tough Love

Everyone is talking about sugar these days. Most weeks I'm greeted by emails, videos, news stories and medical journal articles about the evils of the sweet stuff.  Authors are sending messages that sound more and more alarming by the day. It's toxic. It's poison. It's killing us.  I don't know about you….but I think they're trying to get our attention. And for good reason.

In North America our sugar consumption has increased phenomenally in recent decades (Mercola). That's not exclusively because you've upped your intake of "double-doubles" (or….ahem…."four by fours") at the Tim Horton's drive-thru. Sugar consumption has shot up because we have a booming processed food industry that puts sugar in absolutely everything. And I mean everything. If it's canned, boxed, frozen, jarred, or bagged it probably has sugar in it. Experts estimate that 80% of all foods sold in grocery stores contain sugar in one form or another. There are often multiple types in one food product (Lustig, Telegraph). The Canadian Consumer Health Survey 2004 says that the average sugar intake for Canadians is 110 grams of sugar per day. That's equivalent to 26 teaspoons. PER DAY. (World Health Organization in Huffington Post). 

A few weeks ago I had a craving. Beets and walnuts with chèvre cheese on field greens and arugula tossed in home made dijon mustard dressing. Sounds good right? But I couldn't get fresh beets so I checked out the jarred variety. Imagine my horror when I discovered the words "high fructose corn syrup" on the label. Why would anyone add sugar to a naturally sweet vegetable?

I'll tell you why. Because the food industry has mastered the "bliss point" (Fifth Estate CBC). They put as much sugar as they possibly can into most processed food. Sugar works as a food preservative and it also makes food more palatable (particularly if it is low fat).  But in addition sugar is, for lack of a better description, highly addictive. It activates the reward system in your brain and causes a spike in dopamine, triggering a simple but powerful pathway that keeps your brain wanting more more more sugar (Avena).  How better to sell a product than to load it with a substance that triggers a drug-like response in consumers brains (Telegraph, Fifth Estate CBC) ? Research is now revealing that sugar is as dangerous to our health as alcohol and tobacco and more addictive than some street drugs (Telegraph). (Click here to view CBC Fifth Estate's show The Secrets of Sugar on the food industry). (Click here to view a 5 minute video on How Sugar Affects the Brain). 

The problem is that our high sugar high carbohydrate low fat processed food diet is damaging. Our bodies simply cannot break down the processed sugars and substances. They get stored in the liver which becomes enlarged and fatty and triggers the release of insulin into the blood stream. Higher insulin levels means higher levels of fat storage, obesity, and all the diseases that come with that (Lustig). 

Sugar is in most "food products". Ever wonder why they are called food products and not just….food?  Are you expecting bread, pasta sauce, and yogurt to have sugar added?  I'm not. I don't add sugar to these foods when I make them at home. Do you think that naturally sweet foods like beets, dried fruit,  and canned peaches would need more sugar added? I don't. But they've got it (Diet Doctor, Avena).

Because we aren't expecting sugar to be added to these food products people refer to it as "hidden" sugar. But the truth is it's not hidden at all. It's listed right there on the food label. All you have to do is read. Certainly there are different names for sugar so we need to know that things like maltodextrin, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, cane sugar - and a very long list of other names - are sugar in different versions. If the word ends in 'ose' it's probably a sugar. And molasses, corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, brown rice syrup….we know these are sugar don't we? (Click here to view 4 minute video called Sugar Hiding in Plain Sight, on foods that contain added sugar).

What I'm getting at here is that we are all quite aware that processed food is full of sugar and we are choosing not to notice. It's time for us to collectively...and I say this in the kindest most inclusive possible way….grow up and stop eating crap.

There. I said it.


We cannot continue to trust our nutritional well-being to profit motivated food producers and governments who seemingly have no interest in regulating food and it's contents or nutritional value.  In Canada the government won't even agree to ensuring that food labels are accurate. And the sugar industry in North America is a powerful one that aims to influence public policy. When the World Health Organization (WHO) tried to include a sugar limit recommendation (10% of calories per day from sugar) in their Global Strategy for Diet, Physical Activity and Health the sugar industry lobbied the US congress who subsequently threatened to withdraw US funding for WHO if the sugar limit recommendation wasn't removed from the report (World Health Organization in Huffington Post). 

Seemingly complicit in this nutritional nightmare are some of the non-profit health agencies. In the past the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada has put it's seal of approval on bags of candy loaded with sugar and chemicals (Train Wreck: Diet Doctor). The Canadian Diabetes Association will sanction products full of sugar and carbohydrates or allow food companies to put the CDA logo on their products (Health Wash-Weighty Matters) and allow soda companies to produce their educational material (PepsiCo, Weighty Matters). They argue that they sanction these products because they are "low fat" even though it is now widely established that healthy fat is actually good for you and the "low fat" (and therefore high sugar) diet pumped out for the last 30 years is erroneous and at the root of many evils - including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (Kirkpatrick, Healthline).

Now I'm at risk here of ranting, soap-boxing, or plain old foaming at the mouth. The truth is the politics of food infuriates me. Food production in Canada has been hijacked by large corporations whose sole desire is to make money and governments and disease agencies who are willing to play along. The saddest part of all this? Us. The consuming public. We are literally eating it up. Usually without question most of us shovel processed food products down the hatch. We buy into the marketing and the guidelines. We tell ourselves and everyone else that we "eat healthy" because we get the whole wheat bread and the low fat yogourt. We have stopped thinking critically. We line up at the troughs and consume consume consume. And when we get diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, cancer, heart disease and a long list of other conditions then we turn to disease agencies who….recommend continuing with the same diet. As my trainer Cait Lynch would say…."how's that working for you?".

But the bright star on the horizon is that we have the power to change this. Vote with your feet, or in this case, your mouth. Just say no. Don't buy processed food. They can make it but that doesn't mean you have to eat it. 

This is the point where people start to feign confusion. They don't know what to eat. They are confused by "mixed messages". They are so attached to their dietary routine that they cannot imagine a life without _______ fill in the blank - bread, crackers, macaroni and cheese, cereal. The truth is it really isn't that difficult. Keep it simple. Eat like your grandmother. Eat foods that don't have labels (vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole cuts of meat, healthy unprocessed fats). If you have to read about it then maybe you shouldn't be eating it. Not sure how that looks on your plate? Get online and get some meals suggestions. There are literally millions of them.

The other day my friend Diane King put up a poster about food on Facebook. The picture was divided into two parts. One half of the photo was full of fruits and vegetables and said "if your food can go bad it's good for you" the other side had candy, soda pop, and chips and said "if your food can't go bad it's not good for you". It's a catchy way to remind people about what to eat.

But what isn't on the poster is all those other foods and this is what I think people struggle with the most. You don't have to be a neurophysicist to figure out that the luminous blue cupcake with the industrial strength sprinkles isn't something you should put in your mouth. But it's hard to remember that the cereals, breads, pasta, sauces, spreads and frozen entrees are potentially just as bad for us as the junk food side of that poster. We've been told for decades that these are healthy foods. One glance at the label is all it takes to figure out that this isn't so. I can refer you to a vast multitude of books, videos, documentaries and on-line sources. You can read or view any of the references listed below. But really….isn't it common sense? Ask yourself if peanut butter needs to have icing sugar and maltodextrin in it? What nutritional value does bread made with high fructose corn syrup offer?

It's time for tough love. We need to create an intervention. On ourselves. We must think before we eat. We must look at our nutrition in the bigger context of our lives. Is what we eat nutritional? Is it serving our goals? Or is what we eat causing us harm?

Thanks for reading Getting Healthy with NP Sam. Comments welcome - please click the pencil icon below. 

Ten Things You Don't Know About Sugar (Kirkpatrick on Huffington Post)
The 76 Dangers of Sugar (Dr. Mercola)
Eating Sugar Causes Massive Health Problems, World Health Organization (Huffington Post)
High Sugar Diets Increase Risk of Death from Heart Problems (Healthline)
Sweet poison: why sugar is ruining our health (The Telegraph)
Health risks of sugar: Interview with Dr. Robert Lustig (Oprah Magazine)
Sugar: the bitter truth - Dr Robert Lustig (You Tube)
Video: Sugar Hiding in Plain Sight (Diet Doctor)
Video: The Secrets of Sugar (Fifth Estate, CBC)
Another Train Wreck: Heart & Stroke Foundation recommends eating candy (Diet Doctor)
Canadian Diabetes Association Health-Washes 7.25 tsp of sugar per glass (Weighty Matters)
Canadian Diabetes Association Taps PepsiCo to Educate it's Certified Educators? (Weighty Matters)
Video: How sugar affects the brain (Nicole Avena on TED)
Cait Lynch, Personal Trainer/Nutrition & Wellness Coach, Warkworth ON

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