Sweet Sunday: Cocoa-Coconut Cookies

I had a very proud moment not long ago when my almost four year old asked me, “Mama, what’s an Oreo?”  Of course that was followed by, “Can I have one?”  I have to say that my little ones are amazingly understanding when I explain that a certain food isn’t healthy or isn’t something we eat.  Either they really trust me or they know on some level that those foods make them feel bad.  Maybe a combination of the two.  I keep wondering when they are going to start to fight me on it though.  As I’ve mentioned before I do make exceptions for very special occasions, but I also realize that this can be a slippery slope and I have to draw the line somewhere.  A play date or a visit with a relative (while special) is not a special occasion that deserves cake and cookies every time.  There’s definitely a cultural perception that sugary treats are a right of passage for kids and it’s not always easy to “shelter” them from the constant offering of non-nutritive (a.k.a. junk) food or the marketing that perpetuates the idea that it’s “normal.”  One thing that helps is keeping homemade, sweet treats on hand on a pretty regular basis.  Consequently I’ve come up with an arsenal of semi-healthy recipes that I can pull out when I’m starting to feel like the Big Mean Mommy Who Always Says No. Continue reading

Eating With Intention: Food and Mood


It’s no secret that food affects mood.  We’ve all experienced the pure joy that comes with the first bite of a sugar bomb type dessert!  But have you ever noticed a food that makes you angry or sad?  What you eat or don’t eat can trigger chemical and physiological changes within the brain that alter behavior and emotions.  However, because we are all biochemically unique, you can’t just assume that complex carbs will increase energy and fats will make you sluggish.  You can’t even follow a certain formula for how often to eat because we are all different and all thrive on different diets.  While there are no easy answers, here are some general “rules” that may help guide you as you figure out the perfect diet for you:

  • Dairy contains whey protein, which helps with stress, improves mood, and enhances memory. Opt for raw dairy to get the maximum benefit!
  • Green tea is a proven antioxidant containing theanine, an amino acid that helps combat stress and fight depression.
  • Complex carbs produce serotonin—a feel-good brain chemical that elevates mood, suppresses appetite, and has a calming effect.  Make sure that they are properly prepared to reduce anti-nutrients.
  • Omega-3s—found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines—improve both memory and mood.
  • Sugar and other simple carbs, while providing an initial energy burst for some, have been linked to fatigue, irritability and depression (you know…that crash that follows).

Again, these are just generalities, so don’t get too hung up on the details, instead slow down and be mindful not only of the act of eating, but also of how food makes you feel.  Keeping a food journal is a great way to document this and see patterns over time.  Simply make a grid with columns for each day of the week and rows for meals and snacks.  Add additional rows labeled mood, energy, digestion and sleep and rate these on a scale of 1-10.  You could even plot the data on a graph if you are a visual person!  As you begin to change your diet see how the pattern changes for better or worse and use this data to guide your food choices in an intentional way!

Eat Well, Be Well,

Movie Night: Sugar The Bitter Truth

Here are some excellent videos on sugar and artificial sweeteners.  The first one is about 90 minutes so if you don’t have that much time, try the second one.  It is the abridged version.  The final two videos are about aspartame.  These are amazing and maddening!
Eat Well, Be Well,

Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, explores the damage caused by sugary foods. He argues that fructose (too much) and fiber (not enough) appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic through their effects on insulin.

Obesity—along with the associated chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease—has become a national epidemic . And as a technology or business professional, you are a prime target. But it’s not your lifestyle that’s the problem; it’s your food, and what has happened to it. Join Dr. Robert Lustig to learn why obesity isn’t about personal responsibility, but rather how you can change your environment to prevent this scourge. You’ll walk away with an entirely different set of tips, tricks, and best practices.

The approval of the artificial sweetener aspartame (E951) was the most contested in FDA history. The approval was not based on any scientific grounds but was granted due to political and financial pressure.

Aspartame (E951) is an artificial sweetener, used in over 6000 products. The food industry claims that aspartame helps in losing weight, but why is obesity then becoming such an ever increasing problem?

The Skinny on Sugar Part 4: Kicking the Habit

If you want to lose weight, improve your health & increase your energy, kicking the sugar habit may be the best (yet most difficult) thing you can do.  Part of the reason it is so difficult is because we are programmed to want sweets (and fats).  Once upon a time these high calorie foods are what sustained us.  It was feast or famine and the body planned accordingly.  The problem now is that the famine never comes.  Couple that with the fact that many people have reduced sensitivity to leptin (the hormone that suppresses your appetite) or worse, a total lack of appetite control from years of eating artificially sweetened foods, and you have a vicious cycle of sugar addiction.  I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s worth it.  If you choose to accept this challenge these steps may help.

Start reading labels and begin to notice how may foods have added sugar.  If there are two brands on the shelf and one has added sugar or sweetener and the other does not, try they other one for a change.  You may be pleasantly surprised.  Also, pay attention to what you eat throughout the day and maybe even calculate how many grams of sugar you are consuming on an average day.  Remember the AHA recommends no more than 9 teaspoons for males and 6 teaspoons for females per day.

If you tend to keep a sugar bowl or honey jar out and readily available, put it in the cabinet…maybe even on a high shelf.  This will make you more aware of how often you are adding concentrated sweeteners to your food.

Beverages are loaded with added sugars (both real and fake) and provide very little nutrients.  This is a great place to start cutting back on your sugar intake.  If you really need a sweet drink try unsweetened coconut water or a lacto-fermented beverage such as water kefir

Stop buying low and reduced fat foods.  These are not helping you lose weight and are adding loads of sugar to your diet.  If you eat a food with some good fats instead, you will feel full and may not even crave the carbs as much.  Try a hard boiled egg, nuts or some guacamole for a snack.  Also try to make sure that you get some good fats and proteins with each meal.  Balanced nutrition helps prevent hunger and cravings.

Whenever possible go for the certified organic version of a food.  Although organic foods definitely still have added sugar they are often a bit less processed and they do not have chemical sweeteners.

Decide on how many days per week you want to allow sugar in your diet…maybe two or three to start.  This will help get you used to eating foods without sugar and will also make you more aware of how sugar makes you feel when you do eat it.

When you are cooking or baking try using half of the recommended sugar.  You may not even notice a difference.

Start to replace refined sugar with more natural sugars such as Rapadura, honey, molasses, stevia and pure maple syrup.  While these concentrated sweeteners should still be used in moderation they at least have some nutritive value.  This is a great opportunity to learn about different sugars and see what works for you.  Different sweeteners have different levels of sweetness so you will have to experiment with the amounts.  Less is more! 

Once you are comfortable with more natural sweeteners try limiting even these to two or three times per week.  If you were already doing this as you transitioned to the natural sweeteners, good job!  Now maybe you can limit it even a bit more.

If you’ve made it this far you have probably noticed that fruits and vegetable taste much sweeter.  If you still want to cut out a bit more sugar, try substituting fresh or dried fruit for some or all of the natural sweetener in a dish or recipe.  Raisins and dates can sweeten oatmeal, cookies and other treats beautifully.  Sweet potatoes, apples, applesauce and coconut can add a bit of extra sweetness to a variety of baked goods as well.  Spices and natural extracts are your new best friends:  cinnamon, cloves, vanilla…go crazy.  You are only limited by your own imagination!

Whether you plan to wean off or go cold turkey, know that you could very well have some withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, weakness, fatigue, depression, drowsiness, mild nausea, skin eruptions, and mucus or throat discomfort.  These could last a week or two, but are usually pretty mild. The first time I did a total sugar cleanse, I had awful symptoms due to candida die off.  I actually had to leave work and stay home the next day because I felt like I was drunk.  I was literary slurring my words…it was very weird.  So don’t be alarmed if this happens to you.  It will pass, and your energy will greatly improve and will remain stable throughout the day.  You will sleep better and generally be on a more even keel as well.  Also, naturally sweet foods such as fruit and sweet potatoes will taste so much sweeter to you and you may eventually find that you enjoy these foods much more than foods with added sugar.  Good luck.

Eat Well, Be Well,

    The Skinny on Sugar Part 3: The Low Fat Fake Out

    Another rookie mistake for those aspiring to eat better is jumping on the low fat bandwagon.  Since the 1980’s reduced fat (or reduced guilt as Trader Joe likes to call it) foods have taken over the grocery store shelves.  Sometimes you actually have to look to find the “original” product.  God forbid they label it “full fat” though.  After 30 years of this you would think that we’d be skinnier and healthier right?  But this couldn’t be further from the truth.  According to JAMA, 68% of adults are overweight or obese and we have an obesity epidemic that is affecting children as young as six months old.

    Our bodies are programed to want fat because it is an essential nutrient necessary for proper functioning.

    “The human brain is over 65 percent fat, our hormones are made from fat, and so is the outer layer of every single cell in the body. Fat keeps our skin healthy, enhances our immune system, stabilizes our blood sugar and prevents diabetes. Good fats benefit our heart, normalize our blood fats and cholesterol, and even prevent cancer!” (source)

    It’s a matter of survival, but before this turns into a post about good and bad fats I better get back to sugar.  There is a lot of overlap between the two really, because when fat is removed from a food it needs to be replaced with something or else it will taste awful.  Typically the fat is replaced by carbohydrates (i.e. sugar) and/or artificial sweeteners.  I’ve already posted about health risks of sugar, but let’s talk a bit more about why it doesn’t help you lose weight. 

    When the body, which needs fat, doesn’t get adequate amounts of this nutrient, it tells us that we need more food.  Now combine that with the fact that sugar is replacing the fats and it’s a double whammy.  Sugar (especially fructose) tricks the hormones that give hunger and satiation cues and causes you to crave more sugar.  As with other addictive drugs, the body habituates and over time you need more and more to get the same “sugar high”.   There you have it.  You eat low fat foods and the body craves more fats and more carbohydrates.  Thinking we are still hungry we overeat and (shocker!) gain weight! 

    In the case of artificial sweeteners, these chemical additives are known to create a loss of appetite control.  Similar to sugar, they interfere with the hormones leptin and ghrelin.  Ghrelin is the hormone that signals hunger.  When the brain senses the sweetness of an artificial sweetener but does not receive the calories that normally come with sweet foods, ghrelin levels remain high and we continue to eat and predictably, gain weight.  Leptin is still present in the body however, and is secreted by each of these newly created fat cells, but the body ignores it because ghrelin levels remain high and ghrelin trumps leptin.  Eventually, the receptors in the brain become resistant to leptin and you never feel full.  Food companies know this.  In fact, the artificial sweetener neotame is used in cattle feed to help fatten them.  So what do you think it’s doing to us?

    Bottom line, sugar (not fat) is making us fat and low and reduced fat foods are some of the biggest culprits. The media has done a tremendous job convincing us that low fat food will make us better looking, healthier and happier.  If we keep buying these products, they will happily keep the supply coming.  But imagine if we stopped.  Perhaps they would be forced to fill the shelves with REAL food.  A girl can dream can’t she?!?

    Eat Well, Be Well,

    The Skinny on Sugar Part 2: Artificial Sweeteners

    One too many times I’ve heard a seemingly health conscious person dismiss something they are eating or drinking as acceptable because it doesn’t have sugar.  It sounds like this, “Oh, it’s OK, it’s diet soda.”  And this, “It only has 100 calories.”  They mean well and they are on the right track because they know that sugar isn’t doing them any favors.  Sadly they’ve bought into yet another nutritional myth; the myth that artificial sweeteners are better for us than sugar.

    The FDA has approved several artificial sweeteners which millions of Americans (adults and children) consume on a regular basis:
    • Acesulfame potassium (Sunett)
    • Aspartame (NutraSweet or Equal)
    • D-Tagatose (Sugaree)
    • Neotame
    • Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)
    • Sucralose (Splenda)
    The fact is that these sugar substitutes are: best case, not well tested; worst case, studied and found to be potentially harmful.   Once again the FDA turns a blind eye at all but the subsidized science and grants potentially harmful substances GRAS status giving food processing companies carte blanche to add these chemical (yes chemicals!) to any “foods” they choose.  

    This sweetener is not as common as some of the others, but definitely as problematic.  Acesulfame K or Ace K as it is sometimes called has been found to

    “produced lung tumors, breast tumors, rare types of tumors of other organs (such as the thymus gland), several forms of leukemia and chronic respiratory disease in several rodent studies, even when less than maximum doses were given. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, it was petitioned on August 29, l988 for a stay of approval by the FDA because of “significant doubt” about its safety.” (source)


    Originally made by the Monsanto company, aspartame is better known as NutraSweet or Equal and has been used in processed foods and carbonated beverages since the early 80’s.  The two main ingredients in aspartame are formaldehyde and methanol and these are certainly not chemicals that I would willingly ingest.  Dr. Joseph Mercola reports that,

    “Aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. Many of these reactions are very serious including seizures and death. A few of the 90 different documented symptoms listed in the report as being caused by aspartame include: Headaches/migraines, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain, rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, tachycardia, insomnia, vision problems, hearing loss, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, loss of taste, tinnitus, vertigo, memory loss, and joint pain

    This sweetener doesn’t seem to be able to get it’s feet off the ground.  Although approved by the FDA, I can’t find any foods containing it and very little research exists on Tagatose.  According to PubMed,
    “D-Tagatose is a malabsorbed stereoisomer of fructose with potential application as a bulk sweetener. Food intake was measured at lunch offered 4 h after the breakfast meal, during the afternoon with access to abundant snacks, and finally at a supper buffet 9 h after the breakfast. Energy intake at lunch and during the snacking period was similar after ingesting the two sugars, while it was 15% lower after ingesting D-tagatose than with sucrose at supper (P < 0.05). Gastrointestinal factors such as the osmotic effects of unabsorbed D-tagatose causing distension of the gut might have mediated the acute appetite-suppressing effect. The present paper also refers to data from a preceding study in which we observed an increased self-reported energy intake after ingestion of D-tagatose compared with sucrose which, in fact, suggests a relative hyperphagic effect of D-tagatose. However, self-reported food intake may be biased by selective under-reporting and this subsequent study with a more controlled assessment of food intake was therefore conducted. This present study did not support any hyperphagic effect of D-tagatose, but rather suggests that D-tagatose may contribute to a reduced energy intake.
    Also known as “superaspartame,” this is one of the more recent sweeteners on the market.  It was approved by the FDA for general use in 2002 and more recently was approved as a flavor enhancer in the European Union.  Like aspartame this product was developed by the Monsanto company, and I don’t have much confidence in their concern for my health.  In 2000, Monsanto sold it’s NeutraSweet division to J.W. Childs Equity Partners II, L.P., a private equity firm that also owns the Sunny Delight Beverage Co. Why they sold it I don’t know, but I wonder if it might be because their “own pre-approval studies of neotame revealed adverse reactions, and there were no independent studies that found neotame to be safe.” (source)  Seriously…not a single double blind study to date…is that insane or is it just me?  Because neotame is basically aspartame on steroids the same health risks would be assossiated.

    “But as if aspartame wasn’t bad enough, NutraSweet “improved” the aspartame formula by adding 3,3-dimethylbutyraldehyde, which blocks enzymes that break the peptide bond between aspartic acid and phenylalanine, thereby reducing the availability of phenylalanine. This eliminates the need for a warning on labels directed at people who cannot properly metabolize phenylalanine.” (source)

    It should also be noted that neotame is used as a replacement for molasses in cattle feed.  It is known to fatten the cattle because like other artificial sweeteners it causes leptin resistance, often leading to weight gain.

    “if your body is exposed to too much leptin, it will become resistant to it, just as your body can become resistant to insulin, and once that happens, your body can no longer “hear” the hormonal messages instructing your body to stop eating, burn fat, and maintain good sensitivity to sweet tastes in your taste buds. So, you remain hungry; you crave sweets, and your body stores more fat… Leptin-resistance also causes an increase in visceral fat, sending you on a vicious cycle of hunger, fat storage and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and more.” (source)


    Most commonly known as Splenda, this sweetener hasn’t been around that long so we can’t be sure of its long term health consequences.  What we do know is that sucralose while “made from sugar” is purely chemical.  In fact it’s a chlorinated hydrocarbon.  This is the class of chemicals used in industrial compounds such as DDT (now banned), paint stripper & oven cleaners
    “Researchers at Duke University gave mice sucralose over a 12-week period.  They found that it reduced the amount of good bacteria in the intestines by 50 percent, changed the pH balance in the intestines, and made the mice fat.
    There are mountains of reports from people who have used Splenda a lot and experienced serious side effects, including bloating, abdominal pain, gas, nausea, heartburn, diarrhea, headaches, migraines, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, depression, anxiety & panic attacks, and joint pain.”  (source)

    You know, the stuff in the little pink packets.  Beginning in 1977 it carried a warning label as well– “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health …contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.” This warning was removed in 2001.  The FDA continues to report that this chemical is safe for human consumption.
    “Saccharin is the most thoroughly tested of all the non-nutritive sweeteners–more than 2374 studies have been done, with aspartame coming in second at 598. Even the most staunch critics are left to admit that no one has been able to draw a definite link between saccharin consumption (even at high levels) and cancer in humans. It has been shown that saccharin causes bladder cancer in male rats of a certain genetic predisposition, but this appears to be a gender- and species-specific phenomenon. To quote from Dr. Janet Starr Hull: “Saccharin is not genotoxic; the presumed mechanism of toxicity is the binding of saccharin to urinary proteins (not normally found in humans), creating a nidus for the formation of silicate crystals, which are cytotoxic to bladder epithelium (of rats).” However–and this is the important part–while the FDA has chosen to say that it cannot be proven that saccharin’s effect on mice is relevant to humans, one could just as easily say that the studies have failed to prove that there is no link between saccharin and bladder cancer in humans.” (source)
    Despite mounting clinical and laboratory evidence pointing to dangerous health consequences, the FDA continues to perpetuate the myth that these chemicals are safe to consume.  Not only are they detrimental to health, but they don’t have the very effect that people count on…weight loss.  According to a Purdue University study artificial sweeteners alter brain chemistry and effect metabolism ultimately causing cravings, over-eating and weight gain.  
    The industry-funded science that the FDA reviews will, of course, never show these effects.  I’ll admit it.  Sometimes I feel like a conspiracy theorist, but then I see something like this diagram showing the overlap between Monsanto and the FDA and I know that I’m perfectly rational.  As consumers it is up to us to follow the money and ask ourselves “who benefits?”  The sweetener industry is a billion dollar industry.  So that answers that question!

    Eat Well, Be Well,

    If you think you have experienced side effects from an artificial sweetener report it to the FDA by going to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator page, find the phone number listed for your state, and report your adverse reaction.


    Decoding Food Labels III: Sugar

    So, you’ve accepted that Americans eat too much sugar.  You believe that high-fructose corn syrup is bad news and that over consumption of any form of sugar comes with health risks.  But…you are probably still thinking, “There’s no way that I eat 22 teaspoons of sugar a day!”  That’s what I thought too.   I think you’ll be surprised if you really pay attention.

    How much sugar do I eat?
    Four grams of sugar is about equivalent to one teaspoon.  So if you look at the sugar content of the food you are eating and drinking and add it up throughout the day, 22 teaspoons would be about 90 grams.  If you are eating packaged foods, that adds up pretty quickly.  If you are drinking juices and soft drinks regularly you might get to 90 grams by lunchtime.  If you really want to try this, this site will help you find the grams of sugar in unlabeled and homemade foods.

    How much sugar should I eat?  
    That’s a difficult question and the ADA and USDA don’t seem to want to commit to a number.  However the American Heart Association has acknowledged the link between sugar and heart disease and has issues the following statement.

    The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calories allowance. For most American women, that’s no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons. The AHA recommendations focus on all added sugars, without singling out any particular types such as high-fructose corn syrup.  For more detailed information and guidance on sugar intake limits, see the scientific statement in the August 2009 issue of Circulation, Journal of the American Heart Association.

    If we convert that back into grams, the AHA recommendation would be 24 grams for women and 36 grams for men.

    What about fruit?
    It’s true that all sugars are not created equal.  There are naturally occurring sugars in foods such as fruit and dairy that are metabolized by the body beautifully.  The best thing about these sugars is that they are self-limiting.  Because they are part of an actual food and have actual nutrients that will fill you up, it is highly unlikely that you are going to consume enough to bombard your liver or cause any major health problems.  You would need to eat 1 apple + 1 banana + 1 orange + 1 cup of strawberries to get the same amount of fructose that’s in a 20 oz. cola.  That’s a lot of fruit!  I think I’d probably fill up first, but if not at least I’d be getting vitamins and minerals and fiber…a real meal!

    Figuring it all out!
    You’re trying to be good.   You’re looking at the numbers on the labels, but you can’t tell if the sugar is coming from natural sugar or added sugars.   What do you do?  To some degree you just have to use common sense.  As Michal Pollan says, “If it came from a plant, eat it.  If it was made in a plant, don’t.”  If you are still unsure, the ingredient label will help you figure it out.  Sugar hides in all sorts of foods and goes by many, many names:

    • agave nectar
    • barley malt
    • beet sugar
    • brown sugar
    • buttered syrup
    • cane-juice crystals
    • cane sugar
    • caramel
    • carob syrup
    • corn syrup
    • corn syrup solids
    • date sugar
    • dextran
    • dextrose
    • diatase
    • diastatic malt
    • ethyl maltol
    • fructose
    • fruit juice
    • fruit juice concentrate
    • glucose
    • glucose solids
    • golden sugar
    • golden syrup
    • grape sugar
    • high-fructose corn syrup
    • honey
    • invert sugar
    • lactose
    • malt syrup
    • maltodextrin
    • maltose
    • mannitol
    • molasses
    • raw sugar
    • refiner’s syrup
    • sorbitol
    • sorghum syrup
    • sucrose
    • sugar
    • turbinado sugar
    • xylitol
    • yellow sugar

    If any of these ingredients are high up on the ingredient list (top 3) then this is a food with a lot of added sugar.  No more decoding necessary!

    Eat Well, Be Well,

      The Skinny on Sugar: Part 1

      Every time I sit down and try to write a definitive post on sugar I end up reading another 5 or 10 studies, get totally off track and bogged down in biochemistry and then I post a quick recipe instead.  But today is the day!  I’m going to post something on sugar or I’m not going to bed!  Actually this is going to be the first of several posts on the subject because it’s more involved than you might think.

      In terms of making better food choices for yourself and your family, sugar is a huge issue…maybe the biggest one out there.  Part of the reason it’s such a large issue is because it’s such a large business.  A lot of people spend a lot of time and money trying to convince us that sugar is OK in moderation.   Even the ADA states that

      “consumers can safely enjoy a range of nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners when consumed in a diet that is guided by current federal nutrition recommendations, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Dietary References Intakes, as well as individual health goals. Dietetics professionals should provide consumers with science-based information about sweeteners and support research on the use of sweeteners to promote eating enjoyment, optimal nutrition and health.”

      In my opinion (which is very much based on “science-based information”) that is simply not true.  But even if it is true, what is moderation?  The FDA has no recommendation on daily sugar intake, and the USDA has a pretty vague recommendation (source).  I find this interesting considering that they are usually so eager to tell us what we should and shouldn’t eat.  Meanwhile,  the average American consumes around 22 teaspoons of sugar/day (and for some it’s as high as 46 teaspoons daily!).  This comes out to over 150 lbs of sugar per person, per year according to the US Department of Agriculture.  I don’t know about you, but nothing about that seems moderate to me! 

      To put this into context, 22 teaspoons is equivalent to about 80 grams of sugar.  In the early 1900s we consumed about 15 grams of sugar daily.  This number has steadily increased over the last 100 years with the biggest jump occurring in the 1980s when high-fructose corn syrup entered the picture.  At this time most Americans consume 72 – 90 grams per day.  This means we are getting about 12% – 15% of our calories from a completely non-nutritive food source.  Yikes!  No wonder we’re always hungry…we are starving for nutrients.

      What are we really talking about?
      So far I’ve only used the word sugar in this post.  Which of course brings to mind table sugar or sucrose, but I’m really talking about any concentrated sweetener because the fact is they all have about the same effect on your health and it’s not pretty!  According to research by well respected, independent sources (see below), any form of sugar, in excess, weakens the immune system, causes inflammation in the body, and increases the risk for serious health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  Sugar has also been linked to depression and other mental health and neurological issues (source).

      Before I continue, let’s define sugar.  There are many ways that we categorize sweeteners:  refined vs. unrefined, processed vs. unprocessed, natural vs. unnatural, nutritive vs. non-nutritive, real vs. fake.  For the purposes of this post I’m excluding the artificial sweeteners.  They have their own set of problems, but that’s for another post.  As for the “real” sweeteners, they go by many, many names, and most processed/packaged foods contain at least one of them.   Some of the more common names are sugar, cane sugar, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate and high-fructose corn syrup.

        Now over the past few years, the media has put a lot of effort into finding a culprit for the failing health of Americans.  High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has perhaps taken the biggest hit.  There is good reason to blame it.  It’s nasty stuff.  But let’s keep things simple, fructose is really the problem here and most concentrated sweeteners contain some fructose.  For example,

        • table sugar (sucrose): 50% fructose
        • high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS): 55% – 65% fructose
        • honey:  52% fructose
        • agave nectar:  as much as 92% fructose!!!

        You get the idea.  Although HFCS does contain more fructose than table sugar or honey (hence the name),  agave nectar which is often categorized as a “natural” sweetener contains even more.  It doesn’t get much attention because it’s not currently being used to sweeten thousands of packaged foods, but that could change.  Back in the 70’s sugar (sucrose) was villainized for being an anti-nutrient and for causing health problems.  HFCS swooped in and saved the day.  Now studies are showing that it’s worse than the sugar it replaced.  However, we shouldn’t let this cloud the fact that fructose is present in almost all concentrated sweeteners and as a society we are consuming far too much of it in one form or another and the consequences are becoming devastatingly apparent.

        According to Robert Lustig, MD, fructose is poison!  Dr. Lustig is the Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, in the Division of Endocrinology and the Director of the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health Program as UCSF.   He is a nationally-recognized authority in the field of neuroendocrinology, with a specific emphasis on the regulation of energy balance by the central nervous system.  Believe me when I tell you that he is not using this word lightly, nor is he trying to be dramatic.  He means poison in the true sense of the word.  Fructose is a toxic substance that is metabolized by the liver alone.  Unlike glucose (the sugar that fuels the body) which is metabolized by all organs of the body, fructose is sent directly to the liver,  just like alcohol and other substances that we universally recognize as poisons!

        Back to the idea of moderation.  Can the liver deal with small amounts of fructose like that found in fruit or a glass of wine?  Of course!  That’s it’s job.  The problem is, the quantities and the rate of fructose hitting the liver is often too much for it to handle.  In the case of HFCS, the entire burden falls on the liver so the pancreas continues to secrete insulin which eventually leads to insulin resistance, uncontrollable blood glucose, weight gain (usually around the middle), high blood pressure & cholesterol, and a whole host of other serious health risks known as metabolic syndrome.

        How Did We Get Here?
        Over the last 100 years we have moved further and further away from a whole food diet.  Food processing companies are billion dollar industries and somewhere along the way they figured out that sugar sells more food and HFCS is the cheapest of the sweeteners!  HFCS also increases shelf life. Win-Win!  For them anyway.  Meanwhile our children are getting addicted to sugar as young as 6 months old because fructose, like other drugs, affects brain chemistry.  It tricks the hormones that give hunger and satiation cues and causes you to crave more sugar.  As with other addictive drugs, the body habituates and over time you need more and more to get the same sugar high.  Food processing companies know this and they know exactly what they are doing when they add HFCS and MSG to bread and salad dressing and ketchup.  Sadly, there is no one to stop them.  Once again food politics comes into play.  The FDA and the ADA stand back and watch as our children suffer from conditions that were once reserved for those over 60.  In fact they perpetuate nutritional lies…

        The American Dietetic Association (ADA) [annual conference] is partnered with and sponsored by junk-food industry giants, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mars and Kellogg.

        During one of the presentation “titled “A Fresh Look At Processed Foods,”…
        the speakers actually gave the message that processed foods are an important part of the American diet to be consumed along with fresh produce! (source)

        So it’s up to us as sons and daughters, as mothers and fathers, as friends and partners to put a stop to this madness.  I’m going to continue to post about sugar all week and I hope to provide a bit of guidance and a bit of inspiration for those who want to make a change in their own diet.  It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.  “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  It’s never too late!

        Eat Well, Be Well,

        For very interesting accounts of the history, politics and health risks of sugar try these books.

        Related Research

        Fast Food, Central Nervous System Insulin Resistance, and Obesity

        Fructose: Metabolic, Hedonic, and Societal Parallels with Ethanol.

        High Sugar Consumption May Increase Risk Factors for Heart Disease in American Teenagers

        A Sweet Problem: Princeton Researchers Find that High-Fructose Corn Syrup Prompts Considerably More Weight Gain

        Consuming Fructose-Sweetened, Not Glucose-Sweetened, Beverages Increases Visceral Adiposity and Lipids and Decreases Insulin Sensitivity in Overweight/Obese Humans