One of my favorite lines from the 1996 movie “Michael” – where John Travolta plays the Archangel – is when Michael is sitting at the breakfast table with two tabloid reporters who are checking out a report of an old lady who thinks she is living with an angel. The reporters stare incredulously as Michael, while sitting at the breakfast table, pours a mountain of sugar into his morning cup of coffee.
Noticing their looks of disbelieve, Michael turns to them and says, “No matter what they say … you can never have too much sugar.”
Not so, says a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. In an article titled, “The Toxic Truth About Sugar” published February 1st in the journal Nature, pediatrics and obesity specialist Robert Lustig and health policy researchers Laura Schmidt and Claire Brindis suggest that sugar’s potential for abuse coupled with its “toxicity and pervasiveness in the Western diet,” make it a prime culprit in a worldwide health crisis. The scientists claim that high sugar intake is so detrimental to the human body that is should be regulated like alcohol and tobacco.
They further argue that it’s a misnomer to consider sugar just empty calories. “A growing body of scientific evidence is showing that fructose can trigger processes that lead to liver toxicity and a host of other chronic disease,” the researchers say. “A little is not a problem, but a lot kills – slowly.”
“The food industry tries to imply that a calorie is a calorie,” says Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. “But this and other studies suggest there is something different about sugar.”
The UCSF report emphasizes the metabolic effects of sugar. Excess sugar can alter metabolism, raise blood pressure, skew the functioning of hormones and damage the liver. Hmmm, sounds suspiciously like what happens when a person drinks too much alcohol.
When you think about it, this actually makes a lot of sense. Alcohol, after all, is simply the distillation of sugar.
Researchers have also been investigating the effect of sugar on the brain and specifically how liquid sugar calories – like those found in sodas and fruit juices – are interpreted differently than sugar in solid form. Studies have suggested that liquid sugar activates the same reward pathways in the brain as traditional drugs of abuse like morphine or heroin.
No one is claiming the effect of sugar is quite that potent but Brownell says, “It helps confirm what people tell you anecdotally, that they crave sugar and have withdrawal symptoms when they stop eating it.”
So, does America have a sugar consumption problem?
Well, according to the American Heart Association, the average U.S. adult consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, while adolescents wolf down 34 a day. Keep in mind that a cup of sugar is 24 teaspoons.
It’s little wonder that the American Medical Association reports that one in three adults is obese as are one in six children and adolescents.
To help reign in our country’s insatiable appetite for sweets, the authors of the UCSF study are advocating taxing sugary foods and controlling the sales to kids younger than 17. They contend that a levy on added-sugar products would help meet the growing cost of sugar-related health problems and discourage consumption.
What a sad tale. Is this what we’ve come to – a country of such arrested adolescence that our Nanny State needs to hide the cookie jar?
Cord Prettyman is a certified Master Personal Trainer and owner of Absolute Workout Fitness and Post-Re-hab Studio in Woodland Park. He can be reached at 687-7437 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.