It was, as the saying goes, déjà vu all over again.
There we were, toward the end of the day at a conference that featured lectures on health problems from eating gluten, health problems from free glutamate, and similar topics. The audience accepted the information enthusiastically – along with the slides that showed extremely long lists of foods that contain the offending substances. In other words, long lists of food to avoid.
Finally, late in the afternoon, I gave my presentation on sugar as a limiting factor in health. The previous speaker had run well over his limit, cutting my allotted time down to 32 minutes. It would be tight but still do-able; this was not a “tough room.” I began to go through my slides and deliver my teaching points.
A man in the audience asked if I was talking about “added sugar” or was including natural products like fruit. I answered that sugar did include fruit – and that fructose, the sugar in fruit, can cause a variety of health problems.
In fact, all of the negative health consequences of sucrose, a disaccharide that’s half fructose and half glucose, are attributed to the fructose in it, not the glucose. Even though you can find disagreements in science journals on virtually everything, no disagreement on this topic exists in the science lit. Researchers all seem to agree that fructose makes sucrose the junk that it is. (These points have been covered in my previous article, “Fructose: The Sugar No One Thinks Is Sugar”.)
Well, the man became angry and even left before the end of my short presentation. Believe me, I’d seen reactions like that before. Sugar is a topic I’ve presented on many times over the years (since 1990, in fact, when everyone was still obsessing about fats). Audience reactions to sugar information have often been strong, and that’s interesting because those were presentations, not personal consultations.
In a presentation, I have no idea what the audience members eat, so nothing can be taken personally — or at least shouldn’t be. But addiction isn’t rational or logical. One question in a short test for alcoholism is, “Have people ever annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?” The key word in the question is “annoyed”. Mess with someone’s addiction, and they get angry.
Maybe we should start asking fruit addicts if people have ever annoyed them by telling them fruit is sugar.
It has seemed lately that people don’t care about sugar addiction, including their own. Fairly recently, an obese woman told me that she knew she was addicted to sugar but was “okay with it.” That reminded me of the final criterion for substance dependence in the DSM-IV – which has been moved into first place in the DSM-V criteria for substance abuse disorder: Continued use despite adverse consequences.
The past decade or more has shown a nutrition awareness shift that actually harkens back to the 1970s. In the 1970s, science journals were filled with articles on the negative impact of sugar on health. Videos were available, and at least one popular book was written on the subject (Sugar Blues).
In the wake of this, the sugar industry – a powerful lobby in Washington – got busy, and, starting about 1983, three things happened.
1. Fat became the new dietary demon, and everyone started eating low-fat this and nonfat that.
2. Sugar consumption between 1984 and 1999 increased by 25-45 pounds per person per year. (25-45 lbs represents the increase, not total consumption.)
3. Obesity in the U.S. became an epidemic.
No doubt the sugar industry was, and is, quite happy with those results.
Now we’re back to a more realistic evaluation of food. Fats are recognized as not being as bad as we used to think – and we know some of them are supremely healthful. Everyone knows that sucrose is junk. Researchers, at least, know that fructose is what makes sucrose junk.
But if all we’ve done over the past 15 years is switch our addiction to fruit, I’m not sure we’ve made any progress. Especially when people get just as angry when I advise them not to eat too much fruit as they used to get when I advised them not to eat sugar.
Do you have the healthy life you want? Have you tried to improve your health or lose weight, only to find yourself stuck? Sugar addiction and other food addictions can sabotage health goals to lose weight, lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and more.