Sugar is an amazing substance. It's a high glycemic food that unhealthily spikes insulin. If it were introduced today for the first time, it would probably be banned as a health threat. Why do we eat it? Not only did our Paleolithic ancestors never consume it when our DNA stopped evolving, but Europeans did not begin consuming until 1000 AD, it has been on a steady upward climb in consumption ever since to today's 20 teaspoons per day. There is a battle going on between the WHO and the sugar industry as to proper levels of consumption. Read on…
WHO Recommends Sugar Consumption Drop to 10%
In this corner is the World Health Organization (WHO) ( www.who.int ), a subset of the U.N. who remains autonomous from any single country or corporation. In particular, it is arms length from election contributions and therefore their influence. With no motive other then their charter "to work for the highest attainable standard of health for every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief or economic or social condition."
The WHO's top priorities are preventing worldwide pandemics like the SARS outbreak. However, they do have a legitimate concern over worldwide obesity and its detrimental affects on health. So they analyzed the data and rendered an opinion that consumers should cut back on their current sugar consumption which now comprises over 15% of their daily caloric intake to a "healthier" 10%. It's among several in WHO's global strategy on health aimed at preventing such threats as heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes.
In the opposite corner is the $7 Billion sugar industry who stands to lose $2.5 Billion should consumers heed the WHO's advise and cut back on their sugar consumption. The sugar association ( www.sugar.org) which represents U.S. sugar growers and refiners is the vocal vanguard. And when you think Coca Cola's revenues alone are about $18 Billion, and then add in those by Nestle and Hershey, do we really think there's no back room maneuvering by the collective industries? In any event, the sparks are flying.
Obesity, The Problem That Just Won't Go Away
In the fitness industry, we've heard over and over again with practically every health bulletin, the developed world is getting fatter and subsequently less healthy. By now, half of European adults and 61% of American are overweight, and the epidemic is spreading around the globe. It is now believed to affect 1.7 billion people worldwide and cost the U.S. economy alone some $117 billion in 2000.
You may be asking, but how can sugar be the problem? Well, it's not the total problem, but it definitely is a major component. Our industry is well aware that it's not just about counting calories but about the glycemic index of carbohydrates that quickly convert to glucose in the bloodstream. High glycemic carbs convert to glucose so quickly that they trigger a rapid and excessive insulin release. Insulin is that powerful hormone which instructs the body's adipose tissues to store fat immediately, and not only that, but put a padlock on it so no matter how many hours on the treadmill, it can't be accessed.
On the glycemic scale of 1-100 with pure glucose being 100, can you guess which end of the spectrum refined sugar lies?
Let's face it, sweet foods taste better and therefore sell more. The real issue doesn't lie with the sugar bowl on your coffee table, it lies with the added sugar that we find in practically all prepared foods, even your yogurt. If you read food labels, you will be hard pressed to find foods with zero sugar added. But the real culprit lies with the soft drink industry with a whopping 9 teaspoons of sugar for a 12-ounce can. Can you imagine what it is for a "super-sized" drink at McDonald's?
The Sugar Association Counters With Their Standard
Sugar Association chief, Andrew Briscoe, summarily rejected the recent WHO guidelines as "misguided and misleading," saying it was a lack of exercise, not just a poor diet, that caused obesity.
While we in the fitness industry have been the biggest supporter of more exercise, even we realize that only solves half the problem. Briscoe's statement, on its own, is tough to swallow. Those 9 teaspoons of sugar in a can of soda translates to about 144 calories. So if a person has a 3 can per day habit, it will mathematically take about an hour on the treadmill to burn it off.
As mentioned previously, he may not even be able to burn it off since his insulin is all out of whack and there's a one way check valve to store fat but don't burn it - Isn't it better to attack the problem form both ends? Increase the exercise and decrease the sugar intake.
Would You Believe, Consume More, Not Less
With the notable exception of the soft drink industry getting in on the bottled water popularity, the industry as a whole refuses to address the fact that there just may be a link between sugar consumption and obesity. Would you believe they actually suggest that the level of sugar consumption be raised from it's current 15.7% of added sugars to a whopping 25%. Why of course, that would translate to another +$5 Billion in revenues.
To shore up his argument, Mr. Briscoe cited a far more lenient U.S. study on sugar - one by the National Academy of Sciences in September 2002 that found no conclusive evidence people suffered nutritionally until their sugar intake exceeded 25 percent of daily calories.
If you do the math, that means their idea of good health is to get consumers to increase their current sugar consumption from approximately 60 lbs/year to about 100 lbs. per year. In other words, add 40 more pounds per year of high glycemic, high caloric, empty calories to an existing obese population. Have we got that right?
The Gloves Come Off
Big business will hit all the political pressure points to fight for their cause. The sugar association is so riled at the WHO that they are threatening to use their muscle and influence to keep the U.S. from making further financial contributions to the WHO.
"Taxpayers' dollars should not be used to support misguided, non-science-based reports which do not add to the health and well-being of Americans, much less the rest of the world," Briscoe wrote the Director General of WHO.
He went on to say that his group "will exercise every avenue available to expose the dubious nature" of the report, "including asking Congress to challenge future funding of the United States' $406 million contribution to the WHO."
That's a strong rebuttal. By not funding the WHO, who will help the truly needy that are most devastated by disease as AIDS is to the sub-Sahara? In the sugar industry's view, it's better for the world to be run over by a SARS pandemic, so long as profits are preserved.
It's Even an Environmental Issue
Recently, Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed a sugar industry-backed bill led by U.S. Sugar Corp., relaxing requirements to clean up the Everglades. Critics say this new law eases water quality standards meant to reduce the level of phosphorus in the Everglades, polluted for decades by fertilizer-tainted runoff from sugar plantations and threatens the existence of the massive Florida wetland.
The bill has even come under fire from U.S. lawmakers who say it threatens federal funding critical to the $8 billion restoration of the Everglades, the unique 'River of Grass' that supplies drinking water to millions of people and is home to numerous endangered species.
So, if the sugar industry can Have Jeb in their pocket, can W be far behind?
Déjà vu All Over Again
Not only are the sugar industry tactics following the path of the tobacco industry's recalcitrance, but they haven't been reading the papers about the litigation over the fat issues. Recently McDonald's had come under fire for serving too much fat and too many calories in their food. Two law suits have already been brought in the U.S. against McDonald's Corp. ( Supersized Obesity, Is McDonald's to Blame ) Is this what it's going to take for the public to fight back?
Jack LaLanne's Story About Sugar
In an interview given to Andrew Cohen, Jack LaLanne severely derided sugar and its affects on him and people in general. LaLanne went on to say:
"I was a weak, sick kid. When I was thirteen years old, I developed this terrific habit of eating sugar. My whole life was sugar, sugar, sugar. It destroyed all the B vitamins and affected my brain. I had this uncontrollable temper, tried to kill my brother on two occasions, failing grades, troublemaker in school and then, when I was about fifteen, the authorities had the doctors take me out of school for six months."
Soon thereafter, LaLanne heard an inspirational talk given by a local nutritionist at the Oakland Women's City Club and he committed to overcoming his sugar addiction, "I went home that night and I said, 'Dear God or somebody, I need help.' I didn't say, make me a Mr. America; make me a straight-A student. I said, just give me the willpower to refrain from these foods that are killing me, all this sugar, sugar, sugar, all this processed food."
Sugar Turns Your Skin Into an Old Boot
According to Dr. Nicholas Perricone , a noted and highly published dermatologist and expert on anti-aging, sugar actually accelerates skin aging:
"Even a healthy body is damaged by sugar in a phenomenon known as glycation. When foods rapidly convert to sugar in the bloodstream, as high glycemic carbohydrates do, they cause browning , or glycating of the protein in your tissues. …When glycation occurs in your skin, the sugar molecules attach themselves to the collagen fibers where they trigger a series of spontaneous chemical reactions. These reactions culminate in the formation of gradual accumulation of irreversible cross links between adjoining collagen molecules. … the bond between the sugar and collagen generates a large number of free radicals leading to more inflammation. .. Over time, skin begins to resemble a cross between beef jerky and an old boot. "
Wait, It Gets Worse
Did you ever have a sugar craving; you know, one of those nights in front of the TV where you'd give your kingdom form a Hershey's bar? For those of you that are closet junk food junkies, you may actually have a physical addiction.
In a recent Princeton University study, scientists found that the urge to eat sugar shares some of the physiological characteristics as drug dependencies, similar to morphine or heroin.
Bart Hoebel's Princeton team studied rats who binged on sugar and showed signs of withdrawal -- such as "the shakes" and changes in brain chemistry -- when the scientists blocked the effects of sugar in the rats' brains.
Hoebel says sugar triggers production of the brain's natural opioids, "We think that is a key to the addiction process. The brain is getting addicted to its own opioids as it would to morphine or heroin. Drugs give a bigger effect, but it is essentially the same process,"