Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Are Sugars Really Toxic?

The sugar debate is an ongoing one in the media, especially after the 60 Minutes segment that aired a couple weeks ago. Although I try for the most part to politely dismiss "attention-grabbing topics" such as this, after Dr. Sanjay Gupta referred to sugar as "toxic" I felt I had to weigh in on this too.

Sugar is not toxic. Period.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s description of sugar as toxic really disturbs me. Toxic is a very strong word--used to describe chemicals and poison. Applying this term to sugar is a gigantic overstatement and one of the craziest things I've ever heard! Furthermore, this oversimplification is now leading the public to believe that sugar is the cause of Americans’ health problems. It’s not! Demonizing any single ingredient does not a healthy diet make.

Over the years, many diets have had their “fifteen minutes of fame.” But what happened when we focused on cutting out fat? We got bigger. Low carb diets have been trending for the last 10 years and what happened? We got bigger. Clearly overly-restrictive dieting isn’t the answer. Singling out sugar will only cause our health problems to get worse because we’re not focusing on a real, long-term solution. What happened to learning from history? Not to mention, research in the September 2011 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that our consumption of sugar has actually declined in recent years, but our waist lines continue to expand.

The solution to our nation’s obesity and health crises lies in a balanced, “big picture” approach to our lifestyles. The idea is quite simple, but the action tends to be easier said than done. That’s right--leading a healthy lifestyle takes effort! Unfortunately many of us are suffering because it’s an effort many people don’t want to put forth. I understand we live in an era when both parents are working, kids have multiple commitments in school and extracurricular activities, and we’re also taking care of mom and dad. No matter how many modern conveniences we have, we still don’t have enough time and we’re tired. Sometimes it might feel like a struggle to get a healthy dinner on the table. I get it. But it all starts with making health a top priority and planning a clear path of action. Identify your goals, your strengths and weaknesses, and then seek assistance. Don’t be ashamed. Find an RD; it’s our specialty and there are many of us out there just waiting to pitch in a helping hand!

To get started with a healthy lifestyle, take some advice from MyPlate, the pictorial representation of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. A healthy diet should be composed of a variety of mostly whole, minimally processed foods: whole grains, starches, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean protein and healthy fats. Couple balanced meals with daily physical activity such as walking, jogging, biking or swimming. And last, but certainly not least, start listening to your body and its hunger cues.

It’s true, added sugar doesn’t have much of a place on a healthy plate. But that doesn’t mean that sugar is the cause of all our problems. Most often we can chalk these problems up to eating too much (of everything) and not exercising enough. It’s an imbalance of calories and poor diet quality. Remember this rule of thumb: 500 extra calories per day equals one pound a week. I'm sure some people are taking in those extra calories from added sugars, but I would venture to say most of those excess calories are found in other foods.

Maybe it sounds easier to just cut out sugar and ignore the rest. But the fact of the matter is: it just won’t work.

What do you think about sugar being called "toxic?"

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Photo credit: Stuart Miles