Last week Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, proposed a ban on super sized (anything larger than 16oz) sugary drinks. I was reluctant to write about this because I didn’t want to get too political. However, it is a bit difficult not to considering it’s caused considerable debate in several circles. Not to mention, I did just post a Frozen Hot Chocolate recipe! I must admit that was pretty perfect timing!
As a professional in food and health, as a consumer and most importantly as a parent, I really can’t see any harm in there not being (sugar-laden) drinks bigger than 16 oz. available. I don’t think the government is going all big brother on New Yorkers, which is what the main reaction across the social media networks seems to be. There is no desire to regulate what one, or rather how much, one wants to drink. The regulation is falling on the companies (albeit indirectly) that are pushing those super sizes, because really their only concern is their bottom line, not your health. Bloomberg is just trying to say New Yorkers don’t want them…or they’ll eventually realize that they don’t want them. For those that really do, buy 2 or 3 bottles.
Obesity and it’s myriad of accompanying illnesses such as insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease (which starts in childhood)¹, depression, etc. are serious problems. We need help. If this is where it’s going to start, then so be it. I’m hoping that some change will soon get into our classrooms because we NEED to get educated about food and its role in our health. (I’m a huge fan of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative.) Once we know better, we’ll eat and buy better. Then, food and drink companies can produce and sell what we want instead of hijacking our health with cheap, chemical filled products.
On the subject of regulation, however, I think we could use a bit more. And, I wouldn’t mind it being more direct, blatant even. How about the FDA getting serious about banning BPA from being used in containers for food stuffs? Can we stop the pink slime practice? Or at the very least, not feed it to our children in schools? Organic farmers could use some support (subsidies help) and big ag farmers would love more incentives on going organic. I personally would love to see labels for products containing GMOs.
But, I digress. Let me finally get to sugar and the problems that arise from excessive consumption of it.
Sugar, the sweet, white crystals we envision at the mere mention of the word, has become a highly processed food stuff and it is pervasive in processed foods. We used to get most of our sugars (simple carbs) from actual food such as fruit, grains, beans, and vegetables. In their whole form, sugars are accompanied by fiber and other nutrients that help metabolize and digest those sugars. Also, eaten in whole form, one eats less actual sugar. Unfortunately that isn’t the case anymore. Here are a few more facts.
- One teaspoon of sugar reduces immunity for up to 6 hours. (There are 10 teaspoons of sugar in a 12oz can of soda.)
- Sugar is acid-forming so it is inflammatory. Inflammation is the gateway through which most illnesses begin.
- Sugar feeds cancer…literally! Cancer cells need a constant stream of glucose to survive.
- Sugar is addictive, like crack. It qualifies as addictive because 1. once you eat even a little sugar, you’ll crave more 2. “quitting sugar cold-turkey brings on withdrawal symptoms that can last from 3 days to 3 weeks”²
- There are studies that suggest that social issues such as crime in inner cities are related to excessive sugar consumption²
(This list is by no means exhaustive.)
“A recent report from the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine estimates that sugar-sweetened beverages account for at least 20 percent of the weight increase in the United States between 1977 to 2007. According to the same report, such beverages represent the largest share of calories and are the largest contributor of added sugars in all individuals more than 2 years of age.”³
Clearly, sugar consumption is a problem in our nation. (Incidentally, we’re exporting our way of eating and similar health problems are popping up all over the globe.) Judging how the “no smoking” law went over – met with harsh criticism then widely accepted and even imitated around the world – I have a feeling this is another one that may catch on. In fact, it already has. On Tuesday, Walt Disney Company announced that all products promoted on its television, radio stations and web sites, must comply with new and strict nutritional standards.*
It’s a start.
¹ http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com/ – part 1
P.S. I think it’s worth the Herculean effort to quit sugar for 2 weeks. It’s incredibly hard, but once you do, your life WILL change. Your tastebuds will adjust and your cravings will change at least a little. Challenge yourself! I grew up on Tang (ugh!) and Twinkies, too. Trust me, it’s worth the effort. (After 2 weeks, try to rely on naturally sweet foods such as fruit, dried fruit and natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, but do so sparingly.)