“Sugar is the new fat,” says Erin Prophet, who has her master’s in public health from Boston University, while lecturing at the Texas Yoga Conference in Houston in February. During the lecture, she gave diet tips and explained the fundamental shift that has taken place in nutritional science over the past decade. As people reduced their fat intake, they were adding sugar to their diet, which, in turn, was making people fat. The new recommendations suggest a healthy diet can contain more fat but less sugar.
However, the message does not seem to have gotten through yet. Some people are still drowning themselves in sugary drinks and smothering their intestines with sugarcoated snacks, desserts and even main courses, while the latest nutritional guidelines are cautioning Americans to consume no more than 10 percent of caloric intake from added sugar.
According to the World Health Organization, if you eat a 2,000 calorie a day diet, no more than 200 calories should be derived from any sweeteners. Beyond pure table sugar, that any other sweetening additive.
Sugar is added to almost everything. It’s often hidden under more than a dozen alias names. The reason they (processors) like high-fructose corn syrup is that it’s cheap and addictive. Our ancestors, thousands of years ago, consumed in one year, the sugar contents of just one can of soda. Yet, over time, humans have become more and more used to sweetening almost everything they eat. I cringe when I see a small child drinking soda or juice. When my daughter was growing up, I tried to be the sugar cop in my house. I also refused to buy, or encourage her to sell, Girl Scout Cookies. I’d like to think that all parents think like me. But they don’t.
Most of us recognize the link between sugar and diabetes, but not so for other disease states. Within the last five years, there has been increasing evidence of a correlation between sugar intake and risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD).
To keep it simple, those with an apple body (visceral fat around the middle), are at significantly greater risk of both heart disease and diabetes.
One of the largest studies in this country focused on nearly 30,000 nurses and other medical practitioners. The higher the consumption of sugar, the greater the risk of obesity, diabetes and CVD.
“I think America, and even developing countries, is losing people to diseases related to the Western diet and excess consumption,” says Prophet, who is also a PhD student at Rice University. “Our research into diet started when people were really dying of illnesses that were caused by lack of nutrients, such as rickets. Now all of a sudden we have so much food. We have diseases caused by excess.” Western, or so-called “rich-people’s diseases,” include diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Surely our ancestors did not eat three heavy meals a day, laden with salt and sugar. Our diet is far from what it was designed to be. Anthropologists have identified what were natural foods eaten throughout time. Today, people don’t eat to live, they live to eat. More and more.
“People understand that your body needs sugar as energy, to live, so they become susceptible to advertising messages about energy,” adds Prophet. “And so they fail to understand the connection between simple carbohydrates like added sugar, and illness. “People didn’t realize, before, that sugar was making them fat.” Sugar has now been linked not only to diabetes but to insulin resistance, which then dumps sugar as glucose into the bloodstream. That extra glucose is stored as fat.
Prophet explained how diabetes develops: “Basically, when you eat sugar, sucrose turns to glucose and to glycogen and is stored in the liver. What happens when you get diabetes is the pancreas slows down, the insulin has to absorb sucrose, so the pancreas is working hard and eventually it can get worn out.”
In more recent research, Prophet says that researchers have proven the connection between the high-sugar diets and fatty liver disease. Not surprisingly, the food and beverage industries want consumers to stay in the dark, and continue to fuel their bodies with their products.
Prophet identified many natural products, such as yogurt and energy bars, which have as much sugar as junk food. Low-calorie does not necessarily mean healthy. “We’ve just been fixated on calories, while we’re getting fat.” Prophet also discussed some diets which may be low-calorie but are hard to follow. “When you eat more extreme (i.e. fad diets), you crave.” Not so, when you eat what your body needs. Healthy, natural, non-GMO fresh foods. Think god’s garden.
People that eat whole foods, with limited sugar, are healthier than those that eat processed foods, and don’t need supplements. Yet how many parents think they’re doing their kids good by serving them vitamin-enriched cereals and sugary drinks. In my day, I’ve seen many a marketing campaign that was designed to lead parents to believe it was in their child’s best interest to feed them processed foods overloaded with sugar, sodium, fats and carbs. Not to mention food colorings and preservatives.
Coaches encourage students to drink “sports drinks,” chock full of sugar, to replace electrolytes. The cave men didn’t worry about electrolytes as they were chasing animals.
More and more experts now agree that a plant-based diet, with plenty of complex carbohydrates, will provide one with ongoing energy, and overall well being.
Prophet also discussed the common confusion between complex and simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are broken down so they enter the bloodstream rapidly. Complex carbohydrates contain fiber and other nutrients, and break down slowly. They are most often found in whole grains. Whole grains may be healthy, but much of what we see at the grocery store marketed as “whole-grain” is filled with many other non-healthy additives and may not be all whole-grain. Again, the marketing on the packaging, or in the media or grocery aisles, leads us to believe something may be healthy, when in fact, it’s not.
“For thousands of years, bread was hard and flat,” notes Prophet. Today, it’s soft, white, and sometimes can last more than a month thanks to all the preservatives. The average person consumes just .7 servings of whole grains a day. “It’s okay to label something ‘whole grain’ even if it’s just 51 percent whole grain. People want things that are fast and go down quickly. It’s a lifestyle shift to add more whole grains to your diet. With real whole grains, you have to chew more, so that the digestive process begins in your mouth. Sometimes it’s hard to find time to chew, but it’s worth it.”
My Russian-born grandfather used to say white bread was like eating cotton. For him, the darker the bread, the better. My grandfather had scant formal education, but he knew a lot. Many of our ancestors inherently know what’s right and wrong, especially when it comes to what we ingest.
Prophet has a different analogy. “When you eat bread made from refined flour, it gets stuck in your body. Kind of like papier mâché.”
Real whole grains are filling, and give you a sustaining level of energy. They also provide your body with necessary fiber, essential for quick elimination.
“The conclusions are finally being drawn that something has to change,” emphasizes Prophet.
(Read prior posts to see what the City of San Antonio is doing to encourage healthy eating habits.)