Tag Archives: diet

Sugar & the Modern Food Environment (Guest Post)

From the blog of Dr. Bill Glaros – Used with permission

sugar_crystals

Sugar has one thing going for it: It makes things taste good. And it’s a taste we’re born to prefer.

In the natural settings that human primate ancestors evolved in, sweetness intensity should indicate energy density, while bitterness tends to indicate toxicity. The high sweetness detection threshold and low bitterness detection threshold would have predisposed our primate ancestors to seek out sweet-tasting (and energy-dense) foods and avoid bitter-tasting foods. Even amongst leaf-eating primates, there is a tendency to prefer immature leaves, which tend to be higher in protein and lower in fibre and poisons than mature leaves. The “sweet tooth” thus has an ancient evolutionary heritage, and while food processing has changed consumption patterns, human physiology remains largely unchanged.

And therein lies the problem. Food and beverage manufacturers bank on this preference: Sweet sells, and we pay. The average American diet is so sugared up, we now eat over a hundred pounds of added sugars each year – roughly double what we ate a century ago. And what have we gotten for it? Not much nutrition but lots more obesity and illness. As Dr. Robert Lustig noted in his widely read and commented upon article in Nature earlier this year,

Authorities consider sugar as ’empty calories’ – but there is nothing empty about these 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 diseases. A little is not a problem, but a lot kills – slowly….

Is it really coincidence that industry front groups have been putting out more pro-sugar messages than usual? The month after publication of Lustig’s article, the International Food Information Council added a “Sugars and Health Resource Page” to pound home the point of how wholesome, safe and healthy sugar can be.

More recently, the New England Journal of Medicine published a set of articles on a major source of sugar: soft drinks. As noted in the lead editorial,

Sugar intake from sugar-sweetened beverages alone, which are the largest single caloric food source in the United States, approaches 15% of the daily caloric intake in several population groups. Adolescent boys in the United States consume an average of 357 kcal of the beverages per day….

Unlike carbohydrates with high fiber content, sugar-sweetened beverages are nutrient-poor and are often associated with consumption of salty foods and fast foods. An emerging association between the increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease is a major concern.

Before the end of the day, the beverage industry was in full spin mode, tossing out unreferenced “facts” that largely sidestep the issues at hand. That “forty-eight percent of overweight and obese individuals drink no sugar-sweetened beverages” says nothing about those who do. And while it’s true that sugary drinks aren’t the sole source of increased caloric intake, they still play a role (in all their super-sized glory).

More, soft drinks offer nothing nutritionally – one reason why they’ve become an easy target for regulation. With processed food, you still get some nutritional value with the junk. With soft drinks, you get nothing but colored sugar water with some preservatives (and maybe a vitamin or two thrown in if it’s an “energy” or “smart” drink).

And it’s not just about the sugar. Too often, junk foods and soft drinks replace real, nutrient-dense foods. The fuller we get on that highly processed stuff, the less we eat things like vegetables and whole fruit. That displacement, in fact, may play a crucial role in the health damage we see from sugar-intensive diets. As Dr. Weston Price wrote in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration,

There is very little of the body building minerals in maple syrup, cane syrup from sugar, or honey. They can all defeat an otherwise efficient [healthy diet]. The problem is not so simple as merely cutting down or eliminating sugars and white flour, though this is exceedingly important. It is also necessary that adequate mineral and vitamin carrying foods be made available [to the body].

But sugar is so nice! you say. Indeed, it is – and even nicer when used less often and in smaller amounts. Here are 12 great tips from Mother Nature News to help get you started.

Image by kaibara87, via Flickr

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Whole Grains & Partial Truths

Despite all the “good food”/”bad food” hype you hear, healthful eating isn’t really so confusingly complicated. Stick to a diet based on whole foods (ideally organic), including lots of fresh produce, a minimum of industrially processed food and sugars, and a good amount of variety, and you’ll do fine.

Or, as Michael Pollan famously put it, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

The problems largely arise when we venture into the area of commercially manufactured food. Those adjectives matter, for strictly speaking, most all food is “processed” in some way before we eat it – through cooking, say, or even just mixing ingredients together. Commercial manufacture takes it to a whole different level, often using ingredients that would otherwise never be found in your kitchen (and that your body has no need of).

grain_anatomyIt also tends to beat the nutritional life out of its food-sourced ingredients, which is one reason for the recent emphasis on whole grains. The refining process strips nutrients and fiber from the grain. Whole grains and whole grain flours keep more of the good stuff by using all layers of a kernel: bran, endosperm and germ.

But just because something is “whole grain” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthful – a point pounded home by a recently released Harvard School of Public Health study. The gist of it? “Current standards for classifying foods as ‘whole grain’ are inconsistent and, in some cases, misleading….”

[Lead author Rebecca] Mozaffarian and her colleagues assessed five different industry and government guidelines for whole grain products:

  • The Whole Grain Stamp, a packaging symbol for products containing at least 8 grams of whole grains per serving (created by the Whole Grain Council, a non-governmental organization supported by industry dues)
  • Any whole grain as the first listed ingredient (recommended by the USDA’s MyPlate and the Food and Drug Administration’s Consumer Health Information guide)
  • Any whole grain as the first ingredient without added sugars in the first three ingredients (also recommended by USDA’s MyPlate)
  • The word “whole” before any grain anywhere in the ingredient list (recommended by USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010)
  • The “10:1 ratio,” a ratio of total carbohydrate to fiber of less than 10 to 1, which is approximately the ratio of carbohydrate to fiber in whole wheat flour (recommended by the American Heart Association’s 2020 Goals)

* * *

They found that grain products with the Whole Grain Stamp, one of the most widely-used front-of-package symbols, were higher in fiber and lower in trans fats, but also contained significantly more sugar and calories compared to products without the Stamp. The three USDA recommended criteria also had mixed performance for identifying healthier grain products.

Of course. The first, second and fourth standards in particular allow for a lot of wiggle room – which is exactly how you get things like the magically health-haloed whole grain Lucky Charms and other sugarific cereals.

genmills_screen

Not mentioned on that General Mills web page is the fact that “sugar” is the second most abundant ingredient in every product shown except Kix, in which it’s the third ingredient. (All include multiple sugars, as well.) They don’t have much to say about the artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and other additives either; nor the presence of GMOs in those products made with corn.

But, hey, they’re whole grain, so they must be good, right?

Uh-huh.

Of course, we’ve talked about this kind of thing before, and the moral of the story remains the same:

Ignore the front of the package; read the ingredients and nutrition info instead. And if you decide to consume the product, do in moderation.

And in case you’re wondering, the Harvard study found that the AHA guidelines gave the best indication of healthfulness:

Products meeting this ratio were higher in fiber and lower in trans fats, sugar, and sodium, without higher calories than products that did not meet the ratio.

Grain diagram via the Whole Grains Council

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On the Latest “Organics Are No Better for You” Story…

Notice any headlines this week that looked like this?:

Since news of the study broke, a lot of excellent commentary has already been published about it and the way much mainstream media chose to spin it. So rather than sound like a broken record, here’s a sample of key points, followed by an article I received via email from the Cornucopia Institute.

  • Sarah Pinneo: “Media Coverage of Stanford’s Organic Foods Study Is Half Baked” (HuffPo)

    Informed buyers of organic aren’t expecting to get more vitamin C from their strawberries. It’s what’s not in the strawberries that makes organic better: toxic pesticides. And it’s what’s not running off the fields and into the water supply. And it’s what’s not poisoning the people who work in those fields, and the honeybees who pollinate them…
    Read More

  • Tom Philpott: “5 Ways the Stanford Study Sells Organics Short” (Mother Jones)

    In reality,…the study in some places makes a strong case for organic — though you’d barely know it from the language the authors use. And in places where it finds organic wanting, key information gets left out. To assess the state of science on organic food and its health benefits, the authors performed what’s known among academics as a “meta-analysis”—they gathered all the research papers they could find on the topic dating back decades, eliminated ones that didn’t meet their criteria for scientific rigor, and summarized the results.

    In another post I’ll get to the question of nutritional benefits — the idea, expressed by the Stanford authors, that organic and conventional foods are roughly equivalent in terms of vitamins and other nutrients. What I want to discuss now is the problem of pesticide exposure, and why I think the Stanford researchers are underestimating the risks…
    Read More

  • Michael Pollan: Interview with KQED News (KQED)

    I think we’re kind of erecting a straw man and then knocking it down, the straw man being that the whole point of organic food is that it’s more nutritious. The whole point of organic food is that it’s more environmentally sustainable. That’s the stronger and easier case to make.

    * * *

    It depends on your values. If you’re concerned about nutritional value and taste, you might find that the local food, which is more likely to have been picked when it was ripe, is better. Because any food that’s traveled a few days to get to you or been refrigerated for a long time is going to have diminished nutritional value. That argues for fresh being more important than organic.

    But if you’re concerned about pesticides – let’s say you’re pregnant or have young kids you’re feeding – than you might choose organic, because it will have on balance fewer pesticide residues. You may also be concerned with the welfare of the people picking and the farmers growing your produce, or you may be concerned about soil health – that would argue for organic too…
    Read More

Thinking Outside the Processed Foods Box — Health and Safety Advantages of Organic Food

By Mark A. Kastel
Senior Farm Policy Analyst
The Cornucopia Institute

 
I have enjoyed a virtually exclusive organic diet for the past 30 years. But I was deeply unsettled by a September 4 New York Times article and a similar Associated Press story casting doubt on the value of an organic diet.

In terms of the extra cost and value of eating organically, I have always subscribed to the adage “pay now or pay later.” While my personal experience does not provide much in terms of a scientifically legitimate sample size, in the last 30 years, after suffering from pesticide poisoning prompted my shift to an organic diet, I have exceeded my insurance deductible only once, due to an orthopedic injury. And my doctor keeps telling me how remarkable it is that I, at age 57, have no chronic health problems and take no pharmaceuticals.

Unfortunately, the analysis done by Stanford University physicians in the articles noted above did not look “outside the box” as many organic farming and food advocates do.

They discounted many of the studies, including by the USDA, that show our conventional food supply’s nutritional content has dropped precipitously over the last 50 years. This has been attributed to the declining health of our farms’ soil, and healthy soil leads to healthy food. Organic farming’s core value is building soil fertility.

Furthermore, there are many externalities that impart risk on us as individuals and as a society, which the physicians failed to look at. For example, eating organic food protects us all from exposure to agrichemicals contaminating our water and air.

Additionally, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have become ubiquitous in processed food with an estimated 80%-90% contaminated with patented genes by Monsanto and other biotechnology corporations. The use of GMOs is prohibited in organics.

Interestingly, there have been virtually no long-term studies on human health impacts of ingesting GMOs, although many laboratory animal and livestock studies have led to disturbing conclusions. The best way to operate using the “precautionary principle,” as European regulators mandate, is to eat a certified organic diet.

Current research now indicates that some of Monsanto’s genes are passing through the placenta into human fetuses and into the bloodstreams of adults and children. Organics is a way to prevent your children from becoming human lab rats testing genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH) or a myriad of other novel life forms.

Stanford researchers, cited in the recent press accounts, dismissed statistically significant differences between agrichemical (pesticide, herbicide, fungicide, etc.) contamination in conventional and organic food.

The researchers might trust the FDA to set ” safe levels of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals in the food we serve our families but many parents have decided to set a lower threshold close zero as possible. even doctors at stanford confirm demonstrably pesticide contamination organic food.

In supporting this cautious approach, there is a growing body of scientific literature that suggests it’s not just the gross level of toxic contamination that pesticides present but rather minute amounts of these toxins can act as endocrine disruptors, or mimickers, sometimes triggering catastrophic and lifelong abnormalities in fetuses and developing children.

Is it worth experimenting with the health of future generations when we know that there is a demonstrated safe alternative—organic food?

To illustrate the difference, researchers at the University of Washington published a paper in Environmental Health Perspectives that documented a tremendous drop in organophosphate pesticide contamination, in the urine of children, after just three days on an organic diet. This is hard science that did sway the Stanford investigation’s conclusion.

Scientists have also recognized that we must take into consideration the disproportionate quantities of food that children consume relative to their body weight, especially of certain fruits and vegetables that have been found to be highly contaminated with synthetic chemicals. Furthermore, their study failed to look at the cumulative effects of contamination in many different food items in one’s diet. Again, children, for developmental reasons, are especially at risk.

Both the New York Times and AP stories did touch on a number of advantages, like lower levels of contamination from antibiotic-resistant pathogens. But that was also dismissed by stating that these could be ” killed during cooking. however we know that inadequate cooking does take place and cross-contamination can easily occur in residential kitchens. so again I pose the question how many potentially lethal antibiotic-resistant organisms do you want to bring into your home?

Although there is conflicting science on whether or not organic food is truly nutritionally superior, there is no doubt that in terms of many parameters, organic food is demonstrably safer.

I will stick with the diet that concentrates on fresh, local, more flavorful food that’s produced without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and genetically modified organisms. And I for one think I’m getting a good value for my own health, while at the same time supporting good environmental stewardship and economic justice for family farmers.

Also see “5 Reasons We Should Continue to Eat Organic Produce” (Mother Nature Network)

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Fighting Gum Disease with Food

We’ve long known that periodontal (gum) disease is a major problem here in the US, but now a study just published in the Journal of Dental Research puts it into numbers.

And they’re not pretty.

One of every two adults over 30 has some form of gum disease.

Among seniors, it’s about 7 in 10.

Rates are highest for Mexican-Americans, current smokers, those living below the federal poverty line and those with less than a high school education. And more men are affected by it than women (56.4% vs. 38.4%).

According to Dr. Bicuspid’s summary, this data came from the 2009-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which for the first time included a full mouth perio exam. Before, only partial mouth exams were done. But “because periodontal disease is not evenly distributed in the mouth, prevalence estimates from surveys…may have underestimated the severity of the disease.”

Consequently, the new findings are considered the most accurate to date.

Of course, one of the things that makes such numbers so troubling is that gum disease, like tooth decay, is almost entirely preventable. Good oral hygiene, of course, is part of it. So is good nutrition. Not only can it help lower your risk; it can help manage or reverse the course of perio disease if it does occur.

Because it inovlves inflammation – a major factor in its link with heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other conditions – a good, broad and basic approach to getting the best of perio problems can be an anti-inflammatory diet such as this one from Dr. Weil.

And there are specific nutrients that offer great help, as well.

For instance, one study published about a year ago in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology confirmed the significant impact of vitamin D, calcium and antioxidants on gum health. Reviewing “the evidence for nutritional exposures in the etiology and therapeutic management of periodontitis” – that is, the cause and treatment of advanced gum disease – the authors concluded that

For prevention and treatment of periodontitis daily nutrition should include sufficient antioxidants, vitamin D, and calcium. Inadequate antioxidant levels may be managed by higher intake of vegetables, berries, and fruits (e.g. kiwi fruit), or by phytonutrient supplementation.

But while supplementation can help, whole, natural foods should be your first and best source of all essential nutrients (along with, in the case of Vitamin D, sunshine). Here are a couple of references to help you make your “perio happy” shopping list:

Image by Dr Parveen Chopra, via Flickr

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GMO Politics

 

An opinion piece by Howard Straus (via the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service):


The Battle over Genetically Modified Organisms

Controversy over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) has been increasing in intensity. Cases in point:

  • Depending on which poll, and how the question is asked, between 75% and 95% of Americans believe that foods containing GMOs ought to be labeled or identified, so they have a choice about consuming them or feeding them to their children. They are opposed by giant agribusiness corporations in league with captive government regulatory agencies, who maintain, with no evidence whatsoever to support them, that GMO foods are safe for human consumption.
  • Pesticide-producing GMO corn crops are failing due to the very pest they were intended to kill, resulting in huge price increases as corn supplies dwindle.
  • Farmers in India who believed the representations of the biotech industry are committing suicide when their crops either fail or fail to come up to the outlandish promises of the manufacturers, leaving them bankrupt. An estimated 1,000 farmers a month are committing suicide. In the past ten years alone, about 200,000 have died, landless and bankrupt.
  • Monsanto illegally tested GMO cotton in India, endangering the rest of the Indian cotton crop by not troubling themselves to take any containment precautions to prevent accidental spread of the plants to non-test fields. When farmers found out about the illegal fields, they uprooted and burned all the plants in the fields.
  • The government of France fined Monsanto tens of thousands of euros for lying about the safety of its best-selling herbicide, Round-Up. After appeals reaching the French Supreme Court, all of which Monsanto lost, they were left without further places to appeal. Monsanto’s GMO seeds are often sold in conjunction with Round-Up on the premise that weeds cannot survive high doses of the herbicide, while the GMO crop plants can.
  • The government of Hungary burned a thousand acres of GMO corn planted illegally without testing or permission. Many more farmers are alarmed that the seeds they bought might have been secretly replaced with GMO seeds.
  • In many European countries, consumers given the choice of purchasing foods with or without GMOs, as evidenced by mandatory labeling, avoid these so-called “Frankenfoods” by the millions. Americans can’t. When is the last time you saw the words “Contains genetically modified ingredients” on a food label?

The biotech industry’s history of mendaciousness regarding GMO plants extends all the way back to the first test plots of GMO crops. We were assured (apparently without any basis in fact) there was no chance whatever of the genes spreading to other plants or weeds. As has been the case ever since, these bland and unverified assurances turned out to be either wishful thinking or a willful lies, unsupported by any testing. Within three years, the weeds surrounding the GMO crop fields showed the same genetic modification and resistance to pesticide as the GMO crops. By this time, though, the genie was already out of the bottle.

Food Industry Power Politics

While touting organic food, and planting an organic garden on the White House grounds, President Obama’s administration has turned over US agriculture lock, stock and barrel, to Monsanto, appointing Monsanto rooter and former governor of Iowa Tom Vilsack to the post of Secretary of Agriculture, and former Monsanto Vice President for Public Policy and lobbyist Michael Taylor the [FDA] office of Deputy Commissioner for Foods.* Several GMO crops were promptly approved by the USDA for agriculture. Tom Vilsack flew around the campaign trail on private jets provided by Monsanto.

The “big six” manufacturers of genetically modified seeds, have used their seemingly limitless funds to force GMO agriculture on the entire US and are on track to extend its forcible conversion of the world’s crops to all other countries. They have used their economic and marketplace power, along with massive government influence, to crush farmers and organizations who refuse to use GMO seeds. They continue their goal of a complete takeover of American food agriculture by gradually purchasing the seed companies that would otherwise provide an alternative seed source for farmers averse to GMO crops.

Foxes in the FDA Henhouse

The biotech industry has often made representations about GMO products that have proven false in the long run, proving that they either have not tested their product properly or are lying about the results. This is highly disturbing, given that one of the representations they have made is that GMO crops are safe for human and animal consumption. The FDA has relied totally on these representations to approve the crops for use in agriculture and food production, yet no independent testing of the crops has ever been done. Monsanto claims that their crops are “substantially identical” to the unmodified crops when pressed for safety testing, yet claim that the crops are different enough from natural crops to warrant patent protection. At very least, one of these two assertions must be false.

When asked about whether their GMO crops were safe, Monsanto’s Director of Public Communications went on record saying, “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the F.D.A.’s job” (Philip Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications. “Playing God in the Garden” New York Times Magazine, Oct 25, 1998.)

For its part, the FDA seems to have abdicated its position as guarantor of food safety, too. “Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety” (FDA, “Statement of Policy: Foods Derived from New Plant Varieties” [GMO Policy], Federal Register, Vol. 57, No. 104, 1992, p. 229.)

Do the words “catch” and “twenty-two” come to mind?

Unnatural, Unsafe and Unscientific

Any experienced farmer will confirm the dangers of monoculture. Strains of crops that produce well during wet seasons may fail during unusually dry seasons. Strains that are resistant to one variety of pest may be highly sensitive to a newly-introduced exotic pest. Monoculture, or depending for all your sustenance on one strain of a food plant, is tantamount to food suicide, as some weakness, either to stress, pests or even some dead-end on a multi-generational reproductive series could prove. If the one strain that we have fails to be viable in the long run, we risk massive famine and all its attendant ills. Yet, with the collusion of the US government, this is the scheme that the biotech industry is forcing on American agriculture, and, if they have their way, on the entire world. We believe that we should have some say in the matter of whether we risk mass starvation because of a reckless, power and money grab by the biotech industry. Our corrupt congress and regulatory agencies disagree.

What, We Worry?

One of the common defenses put forth by producers of deadly substances, whether they be vaccines, pharmaceuticals or GMOs, is, “There is no evidence showing that XYZ is harmful to human health.” Such a claim would be akin to a mass murderer claiming that since nobody actually caught him killing anyone, he should be deemed innocent, and the police believing him! I submit that this standard of innocence is not good enough when promoting a product (GMOs or vaccines) or technology (nuclear power generation) that has the potential to eliminate life on this planet. Instead, there should, must, in fact be strong and incontrovertible evidence that XYZ is safe for human life, and that it accomplishes the task it is intended to perform, with strong and independent oversight enforcing safe operation or provision. Barring that, the substance or technology should never be allowed out of the laboratory. The current push by our pandering politicians to deregulate more industries has all the potential for global catastrophe that resulted from deregulating our financial system.

That our government allows, even promotes such items, and repeats uncritically the specious, undocumented, untested, and all-too-often false claims of GMO producers, speaks to one of two disquieting choices:

  1. The regulatory agencies are toothless nonentities, completely controlled by and subservient to the corporations, who run the show in the interest of profit and self-interest, not human benefit; or
  2. The regulatory agencies are in league with corporations in a common genocidal agenda.

Either way, the regulatory agencies should be disbanded, saving us all the multi-billion-dollar annual budgets that are clearly being wasted to maintain the sham of protecting public safety.

There is no third explanation for the behavior of the FDA and USDA around GMO foods, for the FDA, CDC and NIH promoting dangerous pharmaceuticals while attacking proven natural remedies, and for the Nuclear Regulatory Agency promoting more dangerous nuclear plants in the wake of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Without accountability, corporations will run roughshod over populations, corrupt politicians and regulators will enrich themselves at our expense, and life on the planet will be endangered. If we don’t finally wake up to these facts, and very soon, we are all in real trouble.

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* This sentence has been edited, as the original version of this article incorrectly identifies Mr. Taylor’s post as being in the USDA.


 

Here in California, our November ballot will include Prop 37, the GMO labeling bill. If it passes, it will – in the words of the campaign – “help ensure Californians have the right to know and choose what they buy to feed their families.” You can learn more about the proposition – and related issues – here.

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About All That Sugar…

 

You can read Dr. Lustig’s important paper “The Toxic Truth about Sugar” here.

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No Nutritional Value, yet Power to Undermine Your Health

Via Orthomolecular Medicine News Service

Toxic Sugar

Editorial by Robert G. Smith, PhD

A recent article in the prestigious journal Nature explains that sugar, especially fructose, widely available in soft drinks and other processed foods, is responsible for many serious non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and liver failure [1,2]. One of the contributing reasons is that fructose and other high-calorie substances such as alcohol cannot be directly utilized by the body’s tissues so they must be metabolized by the liver, where they generate toxicity and set the body on a path to diabetes [3]. Further, fructose interferes with the body’s sense of satiety, so that an excess of calories tend to be ingested. This overwhelms the liver, which then must convert the overdose of sugar into fat, which harms the liver and can lead to diabetes. Thus sugar such as fructose, when added to processed foods, has been compared to alcohol in its toxic effect. Even non-obese people are susceptible to “metabolic syndrome,” in which fructose induces hypertension, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, and damage to biological molecules such as proteins and lipids [1-3].

Soft drinks that contain mainly sugar, such as sodas and filtered fruit juices, don’t have enough nutrients to keep the body healthy and free from disease. They provide calories without essential nutrients that you would find in the whole fruit. These “empty” calories then replace other foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables that are the main source of essential nutrients. But added sugar is not limited to soft drinks. Added fructose, as in high-fructose corn syrup or just plain sugar (sucrose, which is 50% glucose and 50% fructose), is found in a wide variety of processed foods such as breakfast cereal, juices, jellies and jams, candy, baked goods, sauces, desserts, and even ready-made dinners and processed meat. Fructose tastes sweet but does not satisfy hunger as well as more nutritious foods.

The high added fructose content of processed foods is addictive in a similar way to alcohol, especially for young children. This has caused an epidemic of obesity in both children and adults. Further, the metabolism of fructose in the liver is similar to alcohol because it tends to perturb glucose metabolism, generating fat and causing insulin resistance, which leads to inflammation and degeneration of the liver and many other problems [4]. Overall, this dietary pattern caused by overloading our bodies with fructose is a vicious cycle that leads to widespread deficiencies of nutrients such as vitamins and essential minerals, along with damage and inflammation throughout the body. This vicious cycle of sugar addiction, consistent with the “metabolic syndrome,” is in large part responsible for the high death rate from the modern diet.

If the modern diet could be adjusted to satisfy hunger without excess calories and to contain a larger proportion of essential nutrients, the epidemic of disease from added sugar might be averted. When ingested in the form of fruit, fructose is less harmful because it is absorbed slowly by the gut and importantly is accompanied by essential nutrients. Supplements of essential nutrients can help, but only if knowledge about the adequate doses and their benefits is made widely available. Examples are supplements of vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, omega -3 and -6 essential fats, which in the proper forms and doses can help prevent dietary deficiencies that cause heart disease, cancer, and diabetes [5]. Other lifestyle choices can help, for example, reducing total calories, increasing ingested fiber, and more exercise [3]. But the benefits of these healthy choices have not been convincing to the modern consumer. Ubiquitous high pressure marketing of soft drinks contributes to the problem.

To correct the problem of sugar overconsumption, it has been suggested that sugar be regulated like alcohol and tobacco [1]. The goal would be to change habits to reduce consumption. Many schools have already banned the sale of sodas, but have replaced them with juices or artificial drinks that contain added sugar. According to this suggestion, the sale of sweetened drinks and processed foods containing added sugar could be limited in school vending machines or elsewhere during school hours. Age limits on the sale of sugary foods in stores might also help. A limit or ban on television commercials advertising products containing added sugar might also be helpful. A tax on sugar, especially high-fructose corn syrup, could be used to fund research into essential nutrients and advertise their benefits. The idea behind such regulation would be to persuade the public, especially children, to consume less sugar and more nutritious foods [1,2]. This could greatly benefit public health.

It has been argued that similar regulation of alcohol is widely accepted because it has kept alcohol consumption under control [1]. For example, in other areas of our lives, changes in what is perceived as acceptable behavior have been successful, like bans on smoking in public places, designated drivers who don’t drink alcohol, and the inclusion of air bags in cars. To some, a similar type of governmental regulation of sugar would seem justified because at the cost of some loss of personal freedom it could improve health and cut short the epidemic of non-infectious disease.

On the other hand, many people see regulation of sugar by taxing foods containing added sugar as abhorrent and draconian. After all, although it is addictive [4], sugar doesn’t cause the danger of being drunk on the highway, and it doesn’t present an imminent danger to health comparable to smoking. It’s more insidious than that. And sugar has long been part of dietary habits of many cultures. Thus, any governmental regulation of food will have many critics who explain that regulation would be ineffective, and further, we should be able to purchase and eat any food according to our preference.

The underlying issue in this debate is public access to knowledge about nutrition. If the harm that added fructose causes to our health could be widely publicized, along with information about inexpensive and readily available healthy alternatives, this could lead to better health for millions of people. It would cause shoppers to consider other choices, such as vegetable juice or a glass of water, along with unprocessed nutritious foods and vitamin supplements in adequate doses. What is needed is a campaign that provides practical information about diet: what nutrients we need, how to determine the proper doses, and the dangers of a processed-food diet. This could include televised advertisements and health programming, as well as curricula taught at levels from grade school to medical school. It might also include more informative labeling about the nutrient content of food, as well as more healthy and tasty food served at restaurants and dining rooms. Marketplace pressure might then convince food companies to sell more healthy food with a minimum of added sugar and an adequate content of essential nutrients. Orthomolecular medicine, the practice of treating illness by providing sufficient doses of essential nutrients to prevent deficiencies, can help to provide this information [5-8]. We can all become more healthy by forgoing added sugar and other processed foods that lack essential nutrients. And when this is impossible, we can supplement with these essential nutrients to prevent the epidemic of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Dr. Robert G. Smith is Research Associate Professor in the Department of Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of many scientific papers, and an upcoming book, The Vitamin Cure for Eye Diseases.

References:

  1. Lustig RH, Schmidt LA, Brindis CD (2012) The toxic truth about sugar. Nature 482:27-29.
  2. Jacobson MF (2005) Liquid candy: how soft drinks are harming Americans’ health. Center for Science in the Public Interest. http://www.cspinet.org/new/pdf/liquid_candy_final_w_new_supplement.pdf.
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