Most of you that read my blog also read Fed Up With Lunch, a great blog about the deplorable condition of school food in the US. I look forward to reading Mrs. Q's posts every day, and because of her large following, I often find the comments to be highly entertaining. Mrs. Q, an anonymous teacher who has eaten school lunch every day in 2010, has a diverse following. It is clear that some of the commentors are gluten free folks, some are Michael Pollan devotees, some are Real Food people (or Practical Real Food People), some are political about food, and some just love food in general and hate to see it bastardized. And then there are others who I believe follow the blog because they find it interesting. School IS is hot topic these days after all.
This week Mrs. Q made a small, practically throw away, comment about the link between cancer and cupcakes earlier this week in a post about how certain PTA's had been banning bake sales. I don't mention it here to rehash it. I am anti-sugar, I believe that sugar is ruinous to one's health. And while my system was once happy to eat sugar, now even just a chocolate truffle or two is enough to disrupt my energy levels. I still eat sugar and sweet things now and again (more during these Holidays), but I am more conscious of it. And I am more choosy with what sugary treats I eat, and it has become easier for me to say no altogether.
Nope, I am not bringing it up because I want to discuss it further. I bring it up because some of the comments were downright astonishing! Many called Mrs. Q uninformed, and referred to the possibility of a link between cancer and sugar as "ludicrous" or "bullshit". I was disappointed by how many people vehemently defended sugar by saying that there was nothing wrong with ONE cupcake. I suppose I have been living in my nourished corner of the Internet for too long. I have forgotten that most of the population eats an average of 150 pounds of added sweeteners (according to USDA data from 1996), and that translates to roughly 40 teaspoons of sugar every day for every American out there. That is about 4/5 of a cup of added sugar from both sucrose and HFCS combined. That is a hell of alot of sugar. But also, most of the population isn't noticing that their health problems might be related to sugar.
Furthermore, I had a strange experience at my office last week. As we made our way to an outside office event that centered on the Holidays, someone overheard me make a teasing comment to my boss about how he should eat plain yogurt with no sugar, or worse aspartame, if he wanted the full effects of the yogurt's probiotics. After hearing me make said comment, several folks from my office teased me about how they loved aspartame and preservatives. And now every time they offer me some Christmas treat they jokingly tell me that it is organic. They are essentially making fun of me for eating healthy. Whaaaa? I mean, if you haven't met me, I am a bit of a know-it-all. I try hard not to have it come out, but it happens. But I also know that deep down inside, all the changes I have made in my life support me and my health and that might make others feel bad about themselves. People really do bully you because they feel bad about themselves. Mom was right all along.
When I looked for evidence about sugar suppressing your immune system I found alot of people debating it. Most of those who believed that sugar suppressed the immune system cited a 1973 study where they gave test subjects 100 grams of sugar to eat. After some time passed they drew blood from those patients and in a petrie dish they added bacteria to the blood. The white blood cells had a harder time fighting off the bacteria in test subjects who had ingested the sugar. Because this test happened in a lab as opposed to in a real live person, there are those that are skeptical. But Dr Sears, a popular pediatrician and web personality, still believes that there has to be some connection since his office fills up with sick kids just after Halloween. I also believe that there is some connection, because in the last 6 months I have ingested less sugar per day than I have at any other time in my life, and this fall I have had fewer colds, sick days, and I have felt better. It could also be the coconut oil, the grass fed meat and milk, or the greater amount of fat in my diet. Whatever it is, something is working.
Nutrition information is gray. And the results of scientific studies are often vague enough to allow for a variety of different conclusions. And particularly if you do not have evidence in front of you or something that is specific to you, it may be hard to believe something so radical as sugar's ability to negatively affect your health. Also don't forget that major cases showing the ill-effects of sugar on one's health are likely to be suppressed by those who have an interest in selling you sugar. (There were four different links in there in case anyone was interested). But since I have reduced my intake of sugar I have found that my system is far more sensitive to even a few teaspoons. About 30 minutes after eating something with refined sugar (probably more that three teaspoons) I start to feel tired and dragging. If I don't eat meat for a few days I don't feel that way when I go back to it. If I go a couple days without eating veggies (yes it does happen from time to time), when I eat veggies again I actually feel better!! So my reaction to sugar leads me to believe that it has profound affects on the body. You might be able to acclimate to it if you eat enough of it. But does that mean that the problems have disappeared? Or that you no longer notice them?
No, those that defend one cupcake might not have examined the amount of sugar in their own diets. They might not have realized that their 4 pm slump has to do with the soda they drank at lunch. Alot of times people don't realize how much they are affected by a certain food or drug until after they stop it. And even if one cupcake is fine, clearly many folks are eating one cupcake after having three sodas in a day. No individual food is so bad, it matters what kind of food-day in which it was eaten. But there is more attention being placed on soda as being a food to be vilified. Refined sugar is not needed in the diet. We can get all the glucose the body needs from other foods that have actual nutrients attached to them. And don't forget that that 40 teaspoons of sugar came from added sweeteners, not 100% juice, whole fruit, milk, or other foods that already contain naturally occurring sugars. Add in all those things and we are eating a whopping amount of sugar each day.
The body of evidence of fructose and sucrose's role in the rise of obesity is growing. And with more attention being placed on the need to eat more vegetables and nutrient dense foods, someday, those folks who angrily protested Mrs Q the other day will fall in line. We are now in a place where there is alot of doubt among the population about conventional nutritional wisdom, but not alot of studies done to test theories about sugar's effect on the body. And don't forget about an angry Sugar Lobby waiting in the wings to sue you if you publish any scientific data to the contrary.
I might not know exactly what it is about sugar that makes it bad for me. But I have enough bits of information plus my own experience. Our culture is one that relies on scientific studies in order to believe that something is true. But in the case of nutrition and nutritionism, I am not sure that we are ever going to get the study that we are looking for. In the mean time, I follow my gut. That is the closest thing to a traditonal food culture that I have at this point.