Saturday, September 6, 2008

How Much Sugar Should I Eat?

The short answer is: just a little.

The long answer? Well, you could turn to this misleading website by the Corn Refiner's Association for some incomplete answers on the "benefits" of high fructose corn syrup (thanks to Jason Moskovitz for the link). For instance, in the Q&A section, there's this helpful information...

Why do we crave sweetness?
People have evolved from the hunter-gatherers when sweetness indicated that a food was safe to eat. Sweetness was and still is a key taste marker to survival and good health. Sugars as carbohydrates are an important supply of energy to the body. This energy was essential to our survival in our not-so-distant, hunter-gatherer past. However, over the last 12,000 years our way of life has changed significantly. In contrast to our past, an abundance of calories is not essential, but the craving for sweet things remains.

If you can get past the appalling grammar, you may notice the stunted logic and historical inaccuracies. The one sentence that I agree with states that life has changed significantly over the past 12,000 years. We do still have hunter-gatherer instincts. But if you're hunting the aisles of a typical American supermarket for sustenance, sweetness is not a "key taste marker to survival". In fact, avoiding sweetness in this context will help you avoid many of the major "diseases of affluence" (those caused by too much of something rather than too little) such as diabetes.

This site is obviously designed to put you at ease as you wash down your Lil Debbie snack cakes with Dr. Pepper, but regular sugar is not so great either. I went through a phase where I wouldn't drink sodas made with corn syrup, only those made with real sugar. For some reason I thought I was being healthy - and then I realized that I was drinking way more soda than I usually did.

The corn syrup site also bad mouths supposedly natural sweeteners such as concentrated white grape juice. I have to admit that I was taken in by this sweetener at first, particularly in jam and jelly. I found this brand that was sweetened with fruit juice, and I thought "great! natural!". Again, it's what they leave out that gets you. The fruit juice they use is concentrated to such a degree that it's not much better than regular sugar.

The existence of this site is a testament to the popularity of books like Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation and Greg Critser's Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World. (The latter book is where I learned about Earl Butz, pictured above. He was Nixon's agriculture secretary and was chiefly responsible for the increase in corn subsidies to ridiculous levels, which in turn ensured the huge surplus of corn that led to the synthesizing of high fructose corn syrup and its subsequent injection into nearly every single packaged item on your supermarket shelf.) Just be aware that the Corn Refiners Association has millions and millions of dollars invested in getting you to eat more crap.

So, where should you get your sugars? Here's an idea: from whole food (which you can get at many places besides the overpriced Whole Foods Market). If you crave something sweet, try eating a piece of fruit. I remember when I was growing up there was always a fruit bowl around. Keep some fruit around all the time and you'll always have sweetness. Another thing you can do is chew your whole-grain rice more completely. Sugars are simple carbohydrates. When you chew your rice or sweet potato or whatever you prefer, salivary amylase breaks down starch into sugar. If you chew incompletely, you don't get the benefit of the full digestive process.

Sweetness is important. In Chinese medicine, the sweet flavor is associated with the earth phase, which in turn relates to the spleen, pancreas, stomach, and the colors yellow and orange. A nice piece of fruit for dessert lifts the digestive energy, or spleen qi.

So don't run from sweetness - run from added sugars both natural and artificial! Most of you have no need of them. By habit many of us are used to eating much more sugar than we need. If you can break the habit, you'll be much healthier!

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