Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Is 'Added Sugar' a Red Herring?

An article tease on my Facebook feed this morning was tasty link bait for this fish since I pretty much click on any piece related to sugar and dietary guidelines, especially if it has a catchy title.

Your body can't tell the difference
between "natural" and added sugar.
But "Trying to Stay Under The Government’s Recommended Sugar Limit Is A Pretty Tough Challenge (But You Might Want To Give It A Try)" turned out to contain more misinformation than I could handle before my first cup of coffee. I vacillated between feeling sorry for this self-described sugar fiend and frustrated by pop media sites that recklessly spread misinformation like margarine on hot toast.

The challenge writer E.S. Huffman undertook was thus:
"In the interest of all things health, wellness, and unwieldy future medical bills, I decided to test out the WHO conservative sugar recommendation for a week. I wanted to see if it was doable, or if I would turn into a label-reading nutter with a constant sugar-withdrawal headache. So last Saturday, with a full night of sleep acting like the wind at my back, I began my experiment."
I can save you the trouble of reading the full article by sharing the author's wisdom gained after her n=1 science experiment here:
"Will I do it again? Well, that’s a complicated question. My body, unfortunately enough, loved this little experiment. I felt great all week long. In theory, I would do this again in a heartbeat. But in practice? Well, there are the leftover brownies, and two types of ice cream in the freezer now, and I also managed to maul a Girl Scout troop on my Friday grocery shopping trip.

"What it will really come down to is self-control. The day I had to measure myself out a half a portion of Ben and Jerry’s was pretty freaking depressing. But afterwards, I felt good about myself. I had had my ice cream, and it was fine. The real question now is, will I be able to do it without the pressure of succeeding for an article?

"I’m not sure. Today, I’ve already had a slice of cake and a scoop of gelato. But there’s always tomorrow. "
Here's my no-sugar-added beef with this piece. The author assumes that added sugar is the most important thing to avoid to prevent diabetes -- not total consumption of sugar. The latter would include the 14 grams of sugar in her "healthy" banana versus the few grams of sugar added to bread and spaghetti sauce.

Given that even conventional dietitians seem confused on this issue, it's not surprising the writer fails to consider total carbohydrates consumed since even bread with no added sugar turns to glucose in the blood.

In other words, E.S. Huffman: if you're going to eat bread and pasta, you may as well eat doughnuts.

One of my biggest disagreements with the article is the author's view that if food companies included added sugar on their product labels, consumers would have the data required to make healthier choices:
"Here comes a rant, though: will the FDA Gods and/or higher-ups please, please, please keep pushing the added sugar labeling requirement? Because gosh darn it, it’s difficult to know when a food’s sugar content is because of added versus natural sugars. Do I really think that my slices of toast had an entire teaspoon of sugar in each one of them? No, not really. Maybe it was lactose from milk or something else—the point is, there was no way of knowing. I know the sugar lobby has argued all sorts of things anti added sugar labeling (“It will confuse the consumer! Oh no! Oh no!”) but in the end, a nutrition label is just a nutrition label, and if people want to eat healthy, they will."
The problem is our bodies don't know if a food's sugar content is from added versus natural sugars. Not only do we metabolize all sugars the same, many "natural" foods have been bred to be sweeter than their ancestral versions. In that context, are modern apples and melons really "natural"?

Further, the word "natural" does not mean a substance is healthy. Try consuming organic arsenic for a week.

While there was so much about the article to dislike, this may have been the most disturbing passage:
"This morning it’s more Darjeeling, more bagel, more cream cheese, more butter. I may not die of diabetes, but heart disease—weeeeell, that’s an issue to tackle later. The only thing that contains sugar in my breakfast is my everything bagel from Panera, at 4 grams."
Yes, the author seriously thinks not eating breakfast cereal or danish containing added sugar means she will "not die of diabetes." She is more concerned the butter and cream cheese she consumed-- not her carby bagel -- puts her at greater risk for heart disease.

I can't really fault E.S. Huffman for perpetuating misinformation about health and nutrition. Unless one commits to reading complex medical studies or scientifically based books like The Big Fat Surprise, The Real Meal Revolution, or The World Turned Upside Down, it's easy to believe the daily diet of nonsense designed to distract the public from the true causes of diabetes and other metabolic diseases.

While it's a noble ideal for people to avoid consuming foods containing added sugar, the health benefit is negligible compared to restricting total carbohydrates.

No comments:

Post a Comment