The SAD Truth About Sugar
By Christina Pasternak
From the FOOD-A-MINS Blog Series
The Standard American Diet
Like most Americans, I was raised the SAD way - the Standard American Diet way, that is. Pre-packaged snacks made me swoon. The curve of the Pringle fit perfectly on my tongue. After microwaving a Little Debbie brownie for approximately 12 seconds, the gleam of the icing made me swear it was freshly baked. I encouraged the culinary practice of microwaving all of my sweets - it tastes better this way! And it’s faster! No other fry was better than McDonald’s, and I declared their fountain Coke the best there is. I was hooked. In retrospect, I needed an intervention. I needed someone to tell me the truth about food and the dietary disaster that I was creating for myself. But what happens when nobody sees what’s wrong with eating this way? This way of eating - of living - wasn’t just my standard. It’s the American standard.
Jordache Denim and Reese's
Growing up, the running joke in our house was that my mom was addicted to chocolate. She would pick up a family size bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Miniatures at the grocery store, put a few in her Jordache high-waisted jeans pocket to warm them up a bit (the Pasternaks prefer their chocolate a little melty), indulge past the point of moderate-consumption bliss while enjoying her “soaps” she'd recorded on the VCR, take a little swim in her post-binge guilt, then conduct a self-induced intervention. “Kids! Take these! Hide them! If I ask for them tomorrow, do not tell me where they are. No matter what!” It became our mission to hide the chocolate.
“She’ll never find them here!”
“She found them there like a week ago, idiot.”
“Shut up! We’re running out of places to put them. How about here?”
Mom always found the chocolate. Always.
Now you might have an image of my mom being overweight due to her mass chocolate consumption, but remember, she made high-waisted denim look good. She was (and still is) slim and sexy. A sexy mom?! Yup. She’s not only a passionately healthy personal trainer, but she’s my inspiration for a healthier diet and way of life.
Crack Is Whack
The problem with my mom, me, and many Americans, though, is the sugar. The crack. I can spot a sugar addict from a mile away. I’m a drug dog.
Brittle hair and dull skin? Sugar.
Acne? Eczema? Dandruff? Sugar.
Chronic fatigue? Mood swings? Poor attention span? Sugar.
Obesity? Depression? Anxiety? Chronic inflammation? Diabetes? Cancer? Sugar.
Though I may sound like a broken record, and maybe a little crazy to some, medical findings attribute excess sugar intake to the exploding numbers of people with acute and chronic health problems. It’s no coincidence that both sugar consumption and cancer rates have consistently been on the rise for the past 50 years (no wonder nutritional experts refer to sugar as a legal drug).
We’ve all seen the Intervention episode with the girl who was addicted to computer duster, right? “It’s like I’m walking on sunshine!” Yeah, it’s like that. In fact, researchers found that sugar stimulates opioids and dopamine in the brain. Think of the numbingly euphoric state drug addicts use to describe their first high. Do I even need to mention the study concluded that the seemingly uncontrollable cravings, binges, and withdrawal symptoms of sugar addicts look a lot like those of cocaine and heroin users?
I'm not saying you must immediately check yourself into the nearest rehab and commit the remainder of your life to sugar sobriety. I like sugar and enjoy it more than I should. Besides, when it comes to diet and lifestyle changes, the harm reduction model works better than complete abstinence. Feeling like a failure is a good way to completely throw in the towel while throwing a Betty Crocker Warm Delight in the microwave. Are you getting a sense of my old habits yet?
The difference between my Snickers microwaving days and now, though, is that I’m a little wiser. When I eat sweets, I think about what it is (and isn’t) doing for me, keep myself in check, rope it in as needed, and never eat artificial sweeteners. I cannot completely vilify sugar, but I am outspokenly opposed to the use of chemically-laced goodies. Deceptive food is ugly food. Who wants to bite into a beautiful apple that’s rotten on the inside? Not me! I prefer my food gorgeous and true inside and out.