A spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down, but like it or lump it, you eat more than you know. This revelation came to me when, after an ice storm that knocked out my power for three days, I was cleaning out my fridge of spoiled foods. Reading labels as I chucked things out, I noticed sugar and fructose on foods that should have none: Salad dressings, pickles, BBQ sauces, mustard. A peek into a cupboard revealed more added fructose as I checked out cereals, sports drinks, granola bars, popcorn -- why this craze for sweet and salty?
I used to think that fat was the bad guy in our diets. We were told to cut back on butter, cream and full fat anything because saturated fats contributed to heart disease. But a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that there was no significant evidence that dietary saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease.
As welcome as that news seems, I'm not about to eat bacon, eggs, and chips every day. Tomorrow, another study may tell us we were right in the first place to limit those fats. But a growing number of scientists are saying that sugar may be to blame for our altered metabolism, raised blood pressure and other health hazards including liver damage, digestive problems and dementia.
The world's top sugar-hater is Dr. Robert Lustig, an American pediatric endocrinologist who has called sugar poison and compares it to ethanol in its effect on the body. His YouTube video called Sugar: The Bitter Truth has chocked up nearly four million viewings. In an interview posted at Diet Doctor, actor Alec Baldwin credits Lustig, whom he interviewed, for helping him to slim down and become sugar and pasta free. Dr. Lustig is the first expert to ever question "empty calories." Sugar, he has said, is toxic beyond its calories.
The thing is, I don't want to become sugar free. I don't want sugar to be regulated like tobacco, or sold in sugar-only stores like alcohol. I just hate this hidden sugar epidemic and want to see less of it in the products I buy. I want to smell the coffee when I walk into a coffee shop and not smell sugary syrups. If I crave a cookie, I would like to find one that isn't so sweet that my teeth ache.
If this is my New Year's resolution, it's not an easy one. A growing body of evidence points to sugar as addictive. Studies by Dr. Eric Stice, a neuroscientist at the Oregon Research Institute, have shown that sugar activates the same reward centers of the brain as drugs like cocaine. Recent research led by Dr. Stice in which participants drank super-sugary milkshakes has shown that sugar even overshadowed fat as a stimulus: These drinks really lit up the food-reward parts of the participants' brains.
We consume on average 22 teaspoons of sugar each day, about the same amount of sugar in 2 cans of pop plus a chocolate bar. The American Heart Association recommends that women eat no more than six teaspoons of added sugar a day, and men no more than nine. So that's quite a challenge. But we can do it. Just eat less sugar -- 'cause we are sweet enough already.