Saturday, April 24, 2010

sugar, sugar

By the time I hit Jr. High, and started choosing what I eat for lunch, the "fat free" craze was going strong.  Yes, I heard people say, "but it still has calories," but I was too busy chewing to care about calories.  If the box of cookies said it was fat free, well, then, that meant I could eat the whole box.  Tootsie Rolls, Red Vines, Fruit Snacks, cinnamon bears, Mentos, Skittles, anything made by Snackwells in that green box?  Health food in my mind.  Some of the friendships that I formed during my college years were formed while eating excess amounts of sugar.  Double (yes, double) Snickers shakes in the dorms, Nutella and Hob Nob parties in Russia (yes, parties just to eat Nutella and Hob Nobs), Taro (yes, taro) ice cream bars in China... I love those friendships and I love sugar.  Karl and I were talking about this and we think I actually kind of converted him to candy.  When I met him, he was a track running, soft drink avoiding, cauliflower and banana eating kid.  He had a few favorites but I opened up a whole new world of sugar.  And he is a fast learner, I tell you.

Obviously, I survived but I think it might be because my mom, even though she worked full time, was  making healthy dinners from scratch to nourish my body and make it strong enough to handle my sugar crazed ways.  I know that as soon as I was not eating my mom's food, my sugar crazed ways caught up with me.  

But, I don't think I ever thought about sugar as a culprit until now.  I was trying to cut out high fructose corn syrup (because Dr. Oz told me to)  and was then looking at sugar at the new good guy.  I was buying Jones soda instead of  A & W and the Malt O Meal fake Frosted Mini Wheats instead of the real ones for that very reason.  

BUT, here are some things I have learned about sugar:

In the last 20 years Americans have increased sugar consumption from 26 to 135 pounds a year.  I even found one article that says the average is up to 175.  Whatever the case.  That is an insane amount.  I realized how hard it is to get away from sugar when we tried to cut it out for two weeks.  Not just candy and obvious sweets but breads, salad dressings, mayo, ketchup... most processed foods have added sugar.  

There are so many obvious health detriments (diabetes, obesity) linked so sugar, yet we still keep over eating it.  This article was just in the paper and it talked about the link between sugar and heart disease.  I had no idea.  I ran into tons of statistics about obesity.  Some of the most alarming were that 2/3 of adults in this country are overweight or obese.  That means that only 1/3 of the adults are a healthy weight!  Unhealthy weight gain due to poor diet and lack of exercise is responsible for over 300,000 deaths each year.  The annual cost to society for obesity is estimated at nearly $100 billion. This isn't just about looking cute in a swimsuit, is it?  

80% of type II diabetes related to obesity
***I want to make a note that this, as Karl's very not obese and very healthy eating diabetic cousin pointed out that it is TYPE II diabetes that is diet related. Not Type I.***
70% of Cardiovascular disease related to obesity
42% breast and colon cancer diagnosed among obese individuals
30% of gall bladder surgery related to obesity
26% of obese people having high blood pressure

Here was another article in the paper the same day.  It talked about how over a quarter of Americans are too fat to fight for our country.  Whoa.  Sure hope nothing big happens.

I am not looking down on anyone.  I am just so surprised.  Did everyone else know this already?  I was so ignorant.  These statistic are surprising to me.  

But I was thinking about my kids.  Adults basically make their own choices.  Kids?  Well, it is my job to take care of my kids.  The latest statistics I could find were for 2006.  17% of kids age 6-11 were overweight.  I am sure it is higher now. Another said 16 go 33 %.  Those numbers make me sad.  I remember when I taught school, obviously after PE there was a noticeable difference, but simple things like hurrying down the hall were so much harder for the kids that were overweight.  It broke my heart.  There are enough hard things in life, walking down the hall should not be one of them.  Childhood obesity usually starts at 5 or 6.  That is when children's nutritional needs change.  At this point it is much less about just getting fat and calories into them and more about getting nutrient dense foods into them.  That means parents have to make the change because we all know that kids aren't going to start asking for more vegetables and less sugar.  We have to do it.

And what does sugar have to do with weight?  There is a whole lot of science behind it but all I needed to hear was this:  On my last post about healthy food, my friend commented that she cut out all sugar for 5 months.  The results?  She lost 25 pounds.  25!  No insane pills, shots, chemicals, miracles... Amazing, right?  There is a whole lot of science behind why this happens, something about how sugar basically overwhelms our body and we can't process it fast enough.  So fat happens.  But it isn't just the fat, it makes us sick, too.

By now you know I am no scientist and Itried my best to understand and this is what I can say, there are all these  complicated processes that include things like our liver, insulin levels, acidic environment, white blood cells... that in the end suppresses our immune system.  I was so surprised to read about this (in several different places, Google it, there are so many articles about this). It seems to make sense, though.  And here was me, "Oh, you don't feel good?  Here, have a Sprite/cup of sugar."  

About 4.2 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon.  I went downstairs and found a box of Toy Story fruit snacks that survived the purge.  13 grams for one package.  That is 3 teaspoons of straight sugar.  "Here kids, I need you to be quiet while I get this done, have 3 teaspoons of sugar and try to be good, okay?"  

My focus was on my kids (since I am a lot cause.  Just kidding.  My eating habits have changed drastically.  Perfect timing since I am not building a baby and  my baby is what I eat, right?).  So I was looking at how much sugar they should have.  The American Heart Association recommends 3 teaspoons.  That is right, one little bag of Toy Story fruit snacks.  But that would mean that they didn't have anything else with sugar the ENTIRE day.  The reality?  Kids are averaging 21 teaspoons a day.  That is 7 tablespoons.  That is almost 1/2 a cup!  Funny thing is, my first instinct is to say, "Good thing my kids don't have that much sugar."  But, if I add it up, I am sure they do.  So wrong of me to think that way.

We can actually be addicted to sugar.  I have felt it, I know people that are, and validations above all validations (right?)... I Googled it.  There are so many related articles about what it does and how to cut it.

The best thing we did was to cut it out for two weeks.  Knowing that it was only for two weeks.  Two weeks is doable.  Two weeks was enough to become aware.  Two weeks was enough to learn that I am capable of saying no.  I said no to teachers, friends, in-laws, my husband, my kids... everyone.  I never knew I had the strength.  I am a wuss most of the time.  It took a lot of courage for me, but I had a purpose and I did it.

Next, how I dealt with all this sugar love.


Pete said...

You have a great blog. I love reading it.

I also remember you used to eat a lot of candy in Chicago. You were great to have over because I felt no inhibitions about breaking out all the candy. And you would usually bring a stash with you.

Olivia said...

I appreciate that you specify Type TWO Diabetes is diet related. People often get confused and think that diabetes=poor diet and obesity. I am constantly trying new sugar free recipes I will send you! I made a sugar free banana bread last week that was delicious and even sugar free, low fat sugar cookies :)

Annie P said...

I am sitting here eating candy, watching tv and reading blogs. And I was one of those nutella and hob knob friends. This post scates me. Keep this up. I need to make a change and I need all you ideas.


Michelle said...

thanks for this post. keep them coming. more will join the revolution.

pamela said...

oh i'm so loving all of these. we'd get along great in real life too- treat snobs, giving our kids fruit leather! izzy sodas! yay!

**you've inspired me to do a post about my non sugar days to lay out all my experiences. its pretty fascinating. way to go.


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