A stealthy death by a sugary dagger

Perhaps you’ve heard. We’re killing ourselves with sweetness.

According to a highly publicized report from the University of California-Davis, Dr. Robert Lustig has been right all along. Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, has been the voice in the wilderness, trying to alert us that sugar is killing us.

The study backed up Lustig’s claims that excess consumption of high-fructose corn syrup dangerously increases artery-clogging cholesterol. And don’t feel smug and secure if you eschew “corn sugar.” Lustig says that sugar in any form is toxic. There’s a link among sugar, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, even cancer.

This is bad news in our house.

I live with a sugar addict. I like sweets myself. We don’t sit around popping Sweet Tarts all afternoon, but we love our hot beverages sweet. Together, we have been known to wipe out the raw sugar packets at our favorite coffee joint, and to ask for more.

What’s insidious is that our ultra-sweet coffee and tea isn’t the biggest issue. There’s sugar added to everything these days.

I just went to the pantry and looked at a few random items:

Canned green beans (hate ’em, but my guy loves ’em): one gram per serving.

Canned cream-style sweet corn (hate it only slightly less): seven grams per serving.

Organic vegetable soup: six grams per serving.

Light honey-mustard salad dressing: seven grams per serving.

Cereal: 11 grams per serving.

Mac and cheese: eight grams per serving.

Pop Tarts: 15 grams per serving (That’s not a surprise. With Pop Tarts, you deserve what you get.)

Bread crumbs: two grams per serving

Get the picture? How are we going to avoid extra sugar when it’s stuffed into almost every single thing we eat? According to the experts, no- and low-fat foods are even worse. They pile on extra sweeteners to make up for the taste lost when the fat is reduced. Low-fat food will make you fat. And sick.

What’s the answer? Dr. Lustig says we should avoid processed foods. No soda. No fast foods. No dinner from a box.

This requires learning to cook again. That idea scares me. I’m not a terrible cook, but I’m not a good one. I was raised in the everything’s-better-with-more-butter school of Midwestern cooking. As life got busier, cooking became more of an ordeal, and an intimidating one at that.

Enter Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn. The author of the bestselling The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry is a Cordon Bleu graduate. But Kitchen Counter isn’t about being a gourmet chef. It’s not trying to appeal to an exclusive club of foodies.

This book offers basic tips to shop smarter, cook healthier, and become more confident in the kitchen. It’s simple stuff, really — trusting your taste buds, learning what flavors go together, knowing the right way to use a knife. But it’s liberation between the hard covers of a book.

Emboldened by Kitchen Counter, I’ve experimented with vegetables, tossing together spices and ingredients that made sense but didn’t appear in one particular recipe.

What happens when you commit to creating healthy meals out of whole foods? There’s a bonus beyond having control of what ingredients are included, I’ve found. There’s a real sense of accomplishment. There’s the satisfaction of knowing you’re creating wholesome, nutritious meals while supporting local agriculture.

Try it. It’s sweet.


What sugar does

According to research, Americans eat almost 130 pounds of added sugars each year. That doesn’t mean we’re pouring sugar on everything we eat. It’s already there.

Pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig believes the main reason obese children get sick is due to the amount of sugar in their diet. According to Lustig, high sugar ingestion leads to obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

A new UC-Davis study also showed that calories from added sugars are different from calories in other foods. Nutritional biologist Kimber Stanhope told CBS News that the liver gets overloaded with fructose and then converts it to fat. This fat then gets into the bloodstream and creates “small dense LDL,” which forms plaque in the arteries.

Eric Stice, a neuroscientist at the Oregon Research Institute, said that sugar is also extremely addictive — similar to drugs like cocaine. Stice conducted MRI scans of frequent soda drinkers, ice-cream eaters and other sugar lovers, and found that eating more sweet foods builds up a tolerance. The more sugar a person consumes, he said, the less satisfaction that person feels — resulting in eating more and more.

CBS News also spoke with Jim Simon, who sits on the board of the Sugar Association, about those condemning studies. He said that eliminating sugar in a diet is placing the blame on just one food, rather than promoting a healthy lifestyle of low-calorie consumption and regular exercise. “To say that the American consuming public is going to completely omit [and] eliminate sweeteners out of their diet I don’t think gets us there,” Simon told CBS News.

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