This morning I had the pleasure and giddy delight of meeting one of my health and wellness gurus – Dr. Robert Lustig – who spoke at a breakfast meeting about the dangers of sugar, and how the sugar industry rivals the tobacco industry when it comes to prioritizing corporate cash over public health and well-being.
I’d first heard of Lustig last year during one of my Institute for Integrative Nutrition lectures, when we were shown a clip from a “60 Minutes” segment on sugar. As someone who’d been working with and surrounded by sugar for the better part of 2 decades, let’s just say, my eyes were opened wide that day.
Fast forward about 6 months to me watching the incredible food documentary “Fed Up”, and there he was once again, talking about how incredibly addictive sugar is, how it’s marketed to us (including children) in ways that makes it almost impossible to resist, and how (and this is one of my favourite quotes EVER) “… sugar is a poison… it’s chronic, not acute, dose-dependent (there is a safe threshold), hepato- (liver) toxin…” and that our increase in sugar consumption is directly related to the dramatic increase in metabolic diseases like liver and heart diseases, and diabetes, to name a few.
So when I found out he was going to be speaking at a Ramsay Talk this morning, I jumped at the chance to go. The presentation was a short and sweet 45 minutes long, and was amazing (not to mention I got a book, and a photo with Dr. Lustig afterwards)! Shazam! (Insert über happy emoji here…)
So what’s the deal with sugar, and why is Lustig’s work so important? Because we really need to change how we consume sugar, or the extra 10, 20 or 30lbs we’re carrying will be the least of our health concerns!
Studies have shown sugar is 6-8 times more addictive that cocaine. And, in some of those studies, lab rats who were given a choice of having cocaine or a sweet tasting solution, ended up choosing the sweet tasting solution over the cocaine! Why? Because when we consume sugar (and even sweet, calorie-free food-like substances), the same area of our brain – the pleasure center – lights up just as it would if we were to take cocaine! Freaked out yet…? Read on….
Not only that, if we consume too much sugar, satiety signals in our bodies get bypassed, our brain doesn’t realize we’ve eaten, and we start to get tired, lethargic and listless. Confused, our brain thinks we’re starving because that’s how we’re feeling, so it sends hunger signals, making us want to eat more (hello cravings)!
So if we know that sugar is bad for us, that it can cause us so much distress, why do we keep eating it? Well, it being so incredibly addictive is one very good reason. The more you eat it, the more you need to eat to keep getting that “high”.
However, even if you think you eat well, it’s hard to get away from because sugar is in almost e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g! Even at the breakfast today (of which I did not partake, because there wasn’t a chia and maca filled smoothie, veggie stirfry, green juice, or organic, free range pastured egg in sight), there were muffins, croissants, tiny jams, and maple syrup. But there was also bacon, ham, scrambled eggs, and hash browns – all of which apparently had sugar on/in them, because they’re manufactured that way! Oh the bitter irony…
According to Lustig, there are over 600,000 foods in the American food supply, and 74% of them contain sugar! So unless you’re growing, harvesting, fishing, butchering your own veggies, grains, fish, and meat, etc. chances are you’re consuming hidden sugars every day. And sometimes it’s not even in the food to make it taste better or sweeter, but it’s there to cover up the excess salt that goes in there to make you, for example, thirstier (how’s that Coke tasting now.…)
And while we’re consuming all this excess sugar, we’re also consuming more omega 6 fatty acids, more seed oils, emulsifiers and additives – all of which are at the very least inflammatory, or worse – toxic and destructive to our gut flora and organs in general.
So what do we do in this swirling sea of all things sweet(ened)?
- Drink more water – water helps flush toxins while keeping us hydrated.
- Eat more fibre – fibre is nature’s broom and keeps our healthy bacteria happy, helping them crowd out the bad bacteria. That keeps our gut happy and healthy, which keeps us happy and healthy.
- Eat more omega 3 fatty acids – they support heart health, and help regulate cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They also counteract inflammation. When choosing fish, make sure it’s algae eating fish.
- Eat your veggies, and make them a rainbow – a variety of vegetables, raw, cooked and fermented will give your body a much needed variety of phytonutrients, water and fibre. You’ll also feel fuller for longer, and your blood sugar levels will rise more slowly, kicking cravings to the curb!
- Stay away from sugar (hello my name is Lesia and I’m a sugar addict…), or (if you’re not addicted…) keep it to a minimum. In March 2014, the World Health Organization came out with a Recommended Daily Amount for sugar – first time ever – of 25g/day (6 teaspoons) or less, or 5% of one’s daily total energy intake.
Not sure how much you’re eating? For anything that has a nutritional panel on it, look at the sugar and carbohydrate amounts on the panel, and you’ll quickly realize how easy it is to go way over 25g per day with just cereal, crackers, bread, pasta, mini yogurts, fruit juices, and prepared foods. And we haven’t even gotten to cookies, cakes and sweets yet…!
So, as you can see although the sugar industry makes it super hard to not eat a tonne of sugar daily (and doesn’t seem to be making the connection that folks are getting sicker as they eat more sugar), there are things you can do to be more aware of its presence, and to eat less of it. The less you eat, the more your body will thank you – believe me!
One of the things that can also help is a sweet new app you can download for free from ITunes called onesweetapp. It’ll help you keep track of your sugar on your handy dandy phone!
Interested in learning more about sugar and the sugar industry? The Hot Docs festival is screening Sugar Coated, a brand spankin’ new documentary by Michele Hozer this Sunday at the Bloor Cinema at 6:45pm. It’s also playing at the Rainbow Market Square Cinema next Friday the 8th and 7:00pm, and later in the year on TVO.
For more information on Dr. Lustig, check out his YouTube video Sugar: The Bitter Truth, his books Fat Chance and Obesity Before Birth, the movie Fed Up, and his non-profit organization The Institute fore Responsible Nutrition.
As for me? My diet and lifestyle have changed a lot over the past several years, especially since I enrolled in the Holistic Health Coaching Program at IIN. I eat way less sugar, eat very few grains, and include more raw, fermented foods in my diet in an effort to rebalance my gut flora and strengthen my gut health, period. I am no longer developing recipes based on cane sugar and seed oils, and for the 2015 summer markets will be focusing even more on gut healthy, savoury meals and prepared foods in an effort to nourish rather than simply indulge my peeps (that’s you!)
I’ll be sending out more information about my new summer season menu next week, just in time for my summer market season come back on Saturday, 9 May at the Brick Works (happy 1st summer market day tomorrow y’all)!
For now, get your veg on, keep your eyes, ears and taste buds on the lookout for more than the WHO’s RDA 25g/day of sugar max-i-mum, and consider adding some sweetness to your day by enjoying some extra sunshine this weekend!
Eat well. Be well.™