I came across an interesting quote the other day and it really got me thinking: "If sugar were discovered today, it would unquestionably be listed as a controlled substance, and classified as a drug." I then came across this paper in my research, which essentially states my case.
Before we begin, I get it, this will never happen. As pointed out in this paper, any evidence proving sugar to have the physical characteristics and negative consequences as other controlled substances would unquestionably be swept away by major corporations in order to protect the health of their wallets instead of the health of the general public. But I digress. Let's discuss.
What do we know about sugar?
-- Sugar is a carbohydrate and provides energy, but contains no nutrients (empty calories)
-- Sugar is extremely sweet and pleasant tasting, and makes many foods far more palatable
-- Sugar is also addicting, and people experience withdrawal symptoms when sugar is removed from the diet (headaches, mood swings, lethargy, etc)
-- The average American consumes her weight in sugar every year (upwards of 130 pounds... on average... which means some people consume much more).
What is a drug?
A drug is defined as any absorbed substance that changes or enhances any physical or psychological function in the body. Heroin is a drug. It is a white powder that produces striking changes in the body and mind in small doses and provides no nutrients to the human body. Sound familiar?
Heroin is an illegal controlled substance, but sugar is not. Heroin overdose can be deadly. Although it is impossible to overdose on sugar, chronic ingestion of the substance has proven to dramatically alter the physiology of the human body, and is a leading cause of obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other deadly afflictions. I've said it before and I won't back off my stance: sugar and processed foods are the real causes of the major health problems in our society:
- Obesity is linked to over 2.5 million deaths every year
- Diabetes kills 4.6 million annually
- Cardiovascular disease? More than 17 million deaths per year
NOTE: I know there are more factors than sugar that come into play, but it is unquestionably a huge factor in many of these fatalities
Heroin appears to be harmful to the human eye and sugar appears to make people happy, but appearances can be deceiving. Sugar unquestionably kills more people every year than does heroin.
Sugar as a performance-enhancing drug
One of the key properties of sugar is that its consumption results in an insulin spike in the human body. Insulin causes cells in the liver, skeletal muscles, and fat tissue to take up glucose from the blood. In the absence of exercise, this is why excessive sugar intake leads to the storage of fat (and why chronic ingestion of sugar leads to insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus and death). This also explains why sugar as a controlled substance would be abused much like anabolic steroids: Post-exercise, the body will selectively shuttle ingested sugar directly to muscle cells and not fat cells, giving athletes using sugar a distinct advantage over the competition. This is, of course, why I recommend drinking a 3:1 carbohydrate:protein supplement immediately post-workout; because sugar is a drug.
BONUS: Read this NY Times article if you want way too much information about the history and dangers of sugar.
Our future, our choice
If the health problems in North America continue to spiral out of control, maybe we will someday reach a point where sugar will be targeted by people much like tobacco has been targeted over the last few decades. In my opinion, our only hope would be for pharmaceutical companies to lead this charge (we would need their big money to go up against the cash of the fast food and beverage industries), because it is these pharma companies that could harness the power of sugar as a drug and turn a profit -- which is the only way anything will ever change.
I've consumed my fair share of sugar over the years and continue to abuse the substance post-workout and on special occasions, but this is the mindset that needs to be shared by more people. We need to get over the idea that sugar is fine and acceptable to consume on a daily basis simply because it makes things taste better. At the very least, we need to start looking at sugar much like we look at alcohol and tobacco; as an extremely damaging substance to the human body that should be limited as much as possible. Or we can continue to eat whatever is put in front of us and not ask any questions. That's really worked out for us over the last few decades hasn't it?
For more information on the horrifying dangers of sugar, or to tell me to calm down and eat a doughnut, you know how to reach me!