Sweet Poison

Anyone who hangs around me long enough has probably heard me recount a radio piece I heard on NPR. I am kind of an NPR fanatic. You know, sustaining donor and all that. So yesterday, I was rapping with my wife and I brought up this piece on sugar featuring Dr. Robert Lustig on Diane Rehm’s show. The whole gist of the show was about how hopeless it is to fight against obesity when you are eating a diet which is high in sugar.

Which gets into the whole diet thing, of course. You have to understand that I have struggled with obesity my entire life. My parents where both obese. My siblings were both heavy and struggled with weight issues growing up. And so forth. Of course, growing up in the 60s as we did, we ate a horrifically unhealthy diet. Including huge quantities of sugar, especially in the form of soft drinks.

Which gets back to Dr. Lustig. While I disagreed with Dr. Lustig on some points (performing stomach stapling surgery on children being one such point), he did make some other points with which I am in violent agreement. One of these was the way our bodies work with sugar and the flavor sweet.

Basically, if you want to get a baby to eat a salty or tart food, you must introduce it to the baby on average 13 times, and he or she may or may not ever accept it. A sweet food is accepted by babies immediately. Apparently, we are instinctively programed to like to eat sweet foods. According to Dr. Lustig this is because our bodies are designed to recognize anything sweet as safe to eat. Although Dr. Lustig did not point out why this is the case, I can reach into my Anthropology background, and give a very good guess: When plants include sugar in their fruit, they do so because they want animals like humans to pick them, eat them and cast the seeds in their stool. Many, many plants reproduce in this manner. Obviously, making the fruit poison would be counterproductive to the plants survival. For this reason, sweet food is always safe to eat in nature.

Enter the food industry. Dr. Lustig points out that foods like high fructose corn syrup defeat our biological programming: This food is sweet but it is definitely not safe to eat. Instead, in the long term, as can be seen in my own life, it is poison. Even the food industry knows this. But they continue to market this dangerous but wildly profitable food to the public.

I have read and studied so much on diet and nutrition that I figure I probably deserve an advanced degree by now. I have at least read the books on all of the major diet programs, and I have been on most of them. This includes Atkins, Priticin, Ornish, MacDougal, Sears, Fuhrman, etc. In my experience, these guys disagree on almost everything: Some say you should eat a diet low in carbohydrates and high in protein and fat. Others maintain just the opposite: You should eat a diet high in carbohydrates and very low in protein (especially animal protein) and fat. But on one thing all of these guys agree, and that is about sugar, and especially soft drinks.

Everyone in the entire diet and nutrition field (with the exception of shills from the food industry) agree that high sugar foods like soft drinks and heavily processed snack foods are effectively killing us, and are telling everyone this including the food industry. In the process, the entire raft of human diseases that plague us at this point in history (diabetes, arthritis, auto-immunity, etc.) are consuming all of our wealth. You get the idea: Basically we are looking at the end of our civilization if we don’t change our ways.

This is a classic example of why Capitalism does not always work out to our advantage: The food industry has a strong financial incentive to produce and sell very profitable foods like high sugar soft drinks and snack foods. But these foods have a cost and that cost is very, very high. We must fix this somehow if we intend to survive.

More later.

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