Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sweet on Sugar

I was dismayed by an article in last week's Wall Street Journal reporting on new limits on sugar consumption recommended by the American Heart Association.
The Heart Association now says women should get no more than 100 calories, and men no more than 150 calories per day from "added" sugar, the kind found in foods you buy, or drizzled on your grapefruit, or spooned into your coffee. Not because there's anything wrong with sugar--there's no evidence that it contributes in any way to any type of disease--but because people who tend to overeat use a lot of it.

On the other hand, thin and healthy people eat a lot of it, too.  I certainly do. And I'm not the only one--humans have a natural desire for sweet things.  I nursed my three babies for a total of nine uninterrupted years, and I'm grateful that now, post-puberty, they're all allergy-free and quite slender.  But have you ever tasted breast milk? It's pucker-up sweet, and can be 17% fat.  Whole cows' milk is 3% fat.

So we humans naturally crave sweets. How many kids do you know who hate candy?

The Sugar Association, justifiably irate that its product was so arbitrarily assailed, notes in its response to the Heart Association, "Every major systematic review of the body of scientific evidence exonerates sugar as the cause of any lifestyle disease, including heart disease and obesity. In 2002, after its 3-year comprehensive review, the expert panel assembled by the Food and Nutrition Board within the Institute of Medicine at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences stated publicly that the body of scientific evidence did not support the establishment of an upper level (UL) for total or added sugars intake based on data available for dental caries, behavior, cancer, risk of obesity and risk of hyperlipidemia."

In other words, why pick on sugar?  The real problem is obesity!  Obesity is linked with cardiac problems and a raft of other health menaces. But people can get just as fat eating too many raisins or macadamia nuts as they can on sugar. The issue is consuming more calories than the body burns, not their source.  The touted "Mediterranean Diets" supposedly so healthy and life-prolonging, according to the American Heart Association itself, "contain a relatively high percentage of calories from fat. This is thought to contribute to the increasing obesity in these countries, which is becoming a concern."

I definitely agree that downing large amounts of full-sugar soft drinks, at 130 calories a pop [pun], can push one with plumpness-propensity up the girth grid.  But what do people who've internalized sugar-guilt do instead? Guzzle "diet" drinks loaded with chemicals, the long-term safety of which is unknown.  I know people who order Diet Coke with their cheesecake.  Or who sip aspartame-laced drinks all day to keep from eating.  As reported by the New York Times and CBS News, there's evidence that aspartame may be linked to increased risk of cancer. Not so with sugar.

Sugar isn't even particularly fattening. It's got 15 calories per teaspoon. (When I drink coffee, which is not every day, I take two or three teaspoons of white sugar, and a tablespoon of half-and-half.)  But sugar can make a lot of foods more palatable.  Put a teaspoon of sugar in your salad dressing with the vinegar and mustard, and it's yummy, not sharp. Sprinkle just a bit across your veggies, or in a pot of soup, with your regular seasonings to spark them up. (The Sugar Association notes that kids gladly consume a lot more protein and vitamin-rich foods when they're sweet than when they're not.) Will this make you fat? Are you kidding? At 15 calories per teaspoon?

I remember when sugar was the villain for kids, blamed for hyperactivity. That cannard went bye-bye, and now, the American Heart Association is on another anti-sugar kick.  I wish they'd just be direct rather than misleading. People are lazy and don't want to exercise; they're lazy and don't want to cook for themselves; they're lazy and don't want to stop eating their box of crackers.  When the Heart Association tried to attack fast-food outlets (meal choice of the lazy and impatient), that industry struck back effectively.  But what can the individual consumer, told not to eat sugar, do?

I'll tell you: Focus on your body's signals of hunger and satiation.  Eat only when you're hungry, and then enjoy every morsel to the fullest.  Notice as you're eating when you're getting full, and then stop.  Realize that we in this most privileged nation can have any food we want whenever we want it--and use that confidence to liberate yourself from the dictates of all the finger-wagging "authorities" in your life.  Be true to yourself, your body, and enjoy and appreciate it--and concentrate on what you can accomplish with your time and opportunities.  If you follow this simple advice, you will never be obese, and unless your genes won't let you avoid it, you'll never be even fat. This is how French women stay svelte, and how all naturally thin people stay that way.

Now, please pass the sugar.


  1. Diane, this blog is OUTSTANDING. I had been doing Atkins for months and I lost literally a few lbs. But I had to exercise like mad too. Now I 1) eat EXACTLY WHATEVER I am craving (sugar too!) , 2) eat only when I am truly physiologically hungry and 3) stop as soon as I begin to feel full. (It is actually easy to stop when you let yourself eat what your body really is asking you for -- Almond Joys too!) For example tonight I ordered a red pizza pie (no cheese) and a sprite (NOT diet!) because I truly craved these foods. Yes lots of carbs! And my weight has been melting off! And with no need for additional exercise either! Your blog is right on, Diane. Carbs are OK! God would not have created them as a food source if they were not meant to be eaten and enjoyed! And I sleep great now too because my body is finally happy! Thank you!! Vito Joseph :)

  2. Joseph: I've actually given workshops on this natural way of eating, which I call "Free from the Fat Mentality," for many years. Congratulations on breaking free from diet enslavement!