Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sugar - Society's Biggest Health Danger

If you follow the news about contemporary American life and health risks, you have probably noticed a growing number of stories about the looming danger of opioid abuse - a drug addiction/health scare that is crossing all demographics and inflicting billions of dollars of damage on communities. Prescription drug abuse joins heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and car accidents as the health problems that put America at risk and threaten to bust the ability of most people to pay their health care bills. Those are the health problems that most people fear and worry about. But there is a far more insidious toxin which is inflicting daily damage on the lives of nearly everyone - sugar.

At least that's the warning from long-time health advocate Gary Taubes.

Just in time for the holidays - with all the sugary goodness of Christmas cookies and Whole Foods' chocolate truffles - Taubes is back on the health news front with a new book, as well as several articles asking the all important question: "Is Sugar Killing Us?"  The answer, while I hate to be alarmist and am currently revelling in all the culinary magic of my pastry chef wife, is probably ... yes. Sugar is the most addictive drug that we consume, and researchers have known for years that the addictive power of sugar - and all its subtle but nefarious variations - is more addictive than nicotine or cocaine. Additionally, it inflicts much more long-term damage to health because people so readily and regularly consume so much of it, often without even knowing.

Many argue that sugar in moderation is benign, but that assumption has been up for debate for as long as we have added sugar to our diets. Anti-sugar forces (myself included) continue to warn that sugar—both the crystalline variety that we put in our coffee and high-fructose corn syrup—may be a fundamental cause of disease, particularly a condition known as insulin resistance. If we are right, sugar has a uniquely powerful role in causing obesity and diabetes—and thus increases our risk of developing the major chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, associated with these conditions. This debate is not new. Western sugar consumption surged in the mid-19th century with the growth of the candy, chocolate and ice-cream industries. Soft drinks were added to the mix in the 1880s—first root beer, then Dr Pepper, then Coca-Cola and Pepsi. By the 1920s, as Prohibition spurred the nation to turn from alcohol to sugar, yearly sugar sales in the U.S. passed 100 pounds per capita for the first time.
So, it's probably worth considering the down-sides of sugar, even as we celebrate the sugariest time of the year. Perhaps, a few lucky ones will find a copy of Taubes' The Case Against Sugar (out December 27 from Knopf) under the tree or in their stocking, just in time for New Year's Resolutions.

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