Sugar = Toxin?

We must have sweets on the mind over here at NBD… Maybe Easter has something to do with it? Here in the USA, we are conditioned from an early age to gorge ourselves on candy at Halloween and Easter and be “OK” with that. Now that I’m following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, the only sweetener I use is honey, and I’ve cut way back on that after going a little crazy with desserts in November and December.

I cringe when I think about my diet my senior year of high school. Here’s what a typical day was for me, food-wise:

  • breakfast: Twinkie, Zinger (chocolate, duh!), or Ding-Dong with a Pepsi
  • mid-morning snack: Nestle Crunch or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups with a Dr. Pepper (both from the school vending machine). sometimes with chips
  • lunch: piece of chocolate cake with chocolate milk (from the cafeteria). sometimes “cardboard” french fries from the cafeteria
  • before athletics: another candy bar with a Dr. Pepper
  • during and after athletics: Gatorade
  • dinner: usually a Swanson’s Hungry Man frozen dinner with another Pepsi. sometimes another Twinkie or Zinger after dinner

No, I wasn’t obese. I was 5’7″ and 115 pounds. I was a varsity athlete – field hockey, basketball, and track & field – so I exercised 3-4 hours a day Monday through Friday, and then ran 5+ miles on Saturday. I also had a headache every single day, for which I took ibuprofen. I was probably also malnourished and that diet (and  similar food habits that lasted well into my 20s) is probably why I now have a sensitivity to gluten and have IBS. I can’t even imagine eating that much sugar now. I feel a little ill just thinking about it. But I used to be so addicted to it!

The New York Times posted a story today called “Is Sugar Toxic?” It’s by Gary Taubes, who is an independent investigator in health policy and the author of “Why We Get Fat”. Here’s a very brief summary of the article. These sentences don’t appear together like this in the article, but these are Gary’s words, hence the quote. (Apologies to academics and publishers for not quoting properly, but this is a blog, not an academic journal.)

“In the past, we thought sugar was “bad” because it causes tooth decay and represents “empty calories”. Scientists now realize that not all calories are equal, and the way the body metabolizes the fructose in sugar may make it harmful to us.

Too much sugar could be causing metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. Metabolic syndrome is a major risk factor for heart disease and diabetes. Insulin resistance is now considered the fundamental problem in obesity, and the underlying defect in heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

One of the diseases that increases in incidence with obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome is cancer. You are more likely to get cancer if you’re obese or diabetic than if you’re not, and you’re more likely to get cancer if you have metabolic syndrome than if you don’t.”

Wow! Too much sugar can lead to cancer?? Maybe that’s not news for you, but it sure was for me. And maybe I just haven’t been paying attention, but I also didn’t know that any scientists had hypothesized that sugar raises triglycerides and causes atherosclerosis and heart disease.

Heart disease is a huge problem on my dad’s side of the family. Many years ago, we traced our family tree back several generations and found that everyone (male and female) on the Evenson branch had died of a heart attack except for two – one was hit by a bus and one died of tuberculosis. So I am very interested in any research on causes – and prevention! – of heart disease.

The article is fascinating, and I’m sure will stir up some controversy, as food articles tend to do. Go read it for yourself!

And since we’re talking about health and weight, here are a couple other articles for you to read:

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