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Sugar – Why It’s Been in the News and Why You Should Care

Americans have a problem with sugar. Our consumption of the sweet stuff goes up every year as does the weight of the average American. Each American averages about 160 lbs of sugar consumption each year!

But in a few ways it’s not our fault. Genetically we are wired to like it. Scientists theorize animals (including us humans) evolved to like riper fruit because it had a higher sugar content than unripe fruit and therefore supplied more energy. So our taste for sweet has been with us for a long time. Researchers have also studied the power of that sweet taste in mice to show that it is more addicting than cocaine!

“Our findings clearly demonstrate that intense sweetness can surpass cocaine reward, even in drug-sensitized and -addicted individuals. We speculate that the addictive potential of intense sweetness results from an inborn hypersensitivity to sweet tastants. In most mammals, including rats and humans, sweet receptors evolved in ancestral environments poor in sugars and are thus not adapted to high concentrations of sweet tastants. The supranormal stimulation of these receptors by sugar-rich diets, such as those now widely available in modern societies, would generate a supranormal reward signal in the brain, with the potential to override self-control mechanisms and thus to lead to addiction.”

But given that we are genetically predisposed to like the stuff, a perhaps bigger problem that fed into America’s obesity epidemic began some time ago when Harvard scientists were paid to downplay sugar’s possible role in America’s heart disease and place the blame on fat. This is the story that hit mainstream media recently and has stirred up a lot of controversy.

As part of that effort, John Hickson, a sugar-industry executive, funded research by Harvard scientists that was intended, explicitly, to exculpate sugar as a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and to cast blame instead on saturated fat. That research resulted in a 1967 article in the New England Journal of Medicine making that exact case. One of the scientists Hickson funded eventually became head of nutrition at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he helped author a draft of what would become the government’s first official nutritional guidelines—guidelines that recommended a low-fat diet.

The nutritional guidelines drafted at that time are still around today and still used by many medical professionals to recommend a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet. These recommendations have also spurred the products that you see on your grocery store shelves; the ones in which naturally occurring fats are removed from products and replaced by un-naturally occurring high fructose corn syrup and other sugars.

The reason that this is all is a big deal, and why sugar has been big in the news lately is best summed up with this quote from The New Yorker: A Big Tobacco Moment for the Sugar Industry

The sugar industry was “trying to enlist the government to carry out its work, by reshaping Americans’ diets. The result was the proliferation of low-fat, high-carb diets, which many researchers argue has helped fuel the recent obesity boom. Big Sugar’s campaign may have started in the sixties, but we’re still paying for it today.”

Americans have been confused about health for decades. It does not have to continue! We’ll end this article with a quote from CrossFit Founder, Coach Greg Glassman. This is a quote that every athlete should revisit often as it may be the most succinct quote regarding the prescription to attaining lifelong fitness:

World-Class Fitness in 100 Words:

“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise, but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, and presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc., hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports.”

– Coach Greg Glassman, CrossFitFounder and CEO (Courtesy of CrossFit Inc.)