I couldn’t help but notice the scrumptious-looking cupcake on the front cover of the most recent National Geographic. If you’ve got a cupcake, you’ve got my attention.
The related article, “Sugar Love: A Not So Sweet Story,” discusses man’s extensive history with sugar and how it has continued to woo us over time. Sugar not only gives us quick energy, but it stimulates pleasure in the brain the same as heroin or cocaine. It has driven us to great things like world exploration and to not-so-great things like slavery.
In 1700, the average Englishman consumed approximately 4 pounds of sugar per year. Today, the average American consumes 77 pounds of sugar per year - an extra 363 calories per day or an extra pound of weight every 10 days.
Over time, our lifestyles have changed extensively but our genetics have not. Long ago our genetics adapted to store excess carbohydrate as fat for needs when food was scarce. Our body also learned to convert fructose, a form of sugar found in table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and fruits, to free fatty acids, or triglycerides. In early days, these free fatty acids were used in times of survival and quick energy needs.
Today, however, with the over-plentiful diets, high consumption of high fructose corn syrup, and lack of physical activity that make up the current American lifestyle, high levels of triglycerides in the bloodstream instead lead to insulin resistance, prediabetes and/or type 2 diabetes, and an increased risk for heart attack.
So do we give up sugar completely? While I give kudos to the food saints who are able to do so, I think we can still include it in limited amounts.
Sugar should be treated as something special. Even though they are plentiful, we shouldn’t overindulge in desserts, baked goods, sweetened beverages, or foods containing high fructose corn syrup - like that beautiful cupcake on the front cover.
Instead, try to eat as many fresh foods as possible, including lean meats, whole grains, and fresh or frozen vegetables, and use fruit as your source of sweetness at meals at snacks.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100-150 calories per day from added sugars (~6-9 teaspoons/day). Limit your intake of sweets and sweetened beverages – keep them out of the house and save them for an occasional treat.