When we first were married, my husband’s habit was to drink a 16-ounce glass of orange juice for breakfast. To that we added pancakes with maple syrup. During my honeymoon year I found that by ten o’clock in the morning I was nauseous and sweating. After weeks of these episodes, off I went to the doctor, only to discover that I had low blood sugar. My newlywed diet was too high in sugars so I made an effort to avoid them. When I succumbed to the siren call of a donut, I felt bad.
As I was in college at the time, I took advantage of the medical library as well as my chemistry teachers’ brains to try to understand the biological processes that occur with the metabolism of sugar. I learned that sugar, especially in the form of fructose, wasn’t good for me. At all.
What I’ve discovered over the past couple of years due to personal health challenges, re-emphasizes my early understanding of the trouble with sugar.
Wherever I travel I see young children who are overweight. Years ago when I noticed this trend, I thought it was about overeating and not exercising. Too much time in front of the tube, I thought.
But new information informs me that sugar consumption may be the biggest factor in our children’s and our own tendencies to be more heavy than healthy.
Gary Taubes’ writings introduced me to Rob Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California. Lustig’s 90-minute YouTube video, Sugar: The Bitter Truth, explains the metabolic process of how the body breaks down sugar. The liver’s inability to break down the sugar in our body creates “metabolic syndrome”, which is a result of insulin resistance, which appears to be a direct result of consumption of sugar. Metabolic syndrome can affect those of normal weight as well as those who are obese. Evidence points to the upswing in chronic disease—diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, and more—as being directly related to metabolic syndrome and sugar consumption.
What is a safe level of sugar consumption, you may ask?
The American Heart Association now recommends that you keep added sugars to less than 5% of your calorie intake. That’s about 25 grams or 6 teaspoons per day for an average-sized adult. For a three-year-old that figure goes down to 15 grams of sugar per day. Lustig also recommends less than 25 grams per day.
One teaspoon equals 4 grams of sugar. That’s a sugar cube.
A 12 ounce soda, 39 grams. A large orange, 23 grams. A cup of applesauce, 22 grams. A half cup of premium ice cream, 21 grams. A toaster pastry, 17 grams. As you can see, it is pretty easy to unwittingly eat more than 15 to 25 grams of sugar per day.
I encourage you to watch Lustig’s video or read his recent book, Fat Chance. He gets into some technical information in his video, but don’t let that deter you. Lustig gets his message across even if you don’t understand the chemistry. There are shorter versions of his talk available, as well as a children’s version.
Sugar induced metabolic syndrome is causing hundreds of billions of dollars of unnecessary health costs per year, as well as untold heartache in our families when someone is diagnosed with an illness such as diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, or arteriosclerosis.
Over the next series of articles I’ll be addressing profound ways to change and protect the health of our children and ourselves in ways that are virtually cost-free.
Don’t sing the sugar blues. Find a way to jazz up your diet on less than 25 grams of sugar per day.
I’m in agreement about the need to reduce sugar consumption in general, and added sugars in particular. However, sugars in fruits and vegetables really should not be considered in the same way. I hardly think obesity or metabolic syndrome would result from eating a large orange and a serving of beets each day…