Nutrition, calories and weight gain are things almost everyone at least knows something about. But that doesn’t mean any of our “knowledge” is true. Science has advanced, yet we’re still stuck on old principles dating back all the way to the 1950s, such as “eat less, exercise more, and you’ll be healthy.” It doesn’t work that way. Food industry has made it much more complex. Instead, we live in a world in which low-fat food makes you fat, in which the most ridiculous diets have gained enormous popularity, and in which the real science is being ignored simply because it’s a) inconvenient (Al Gore, anyone?), and b) not profitable enough for food companies.
Let’s start with some fun statistics* to get you interested in the topic (or, more likely, to scare you off and to make you click that lovely “back to previous page” button): 1) at the current rate, 95% of people will be obese within two decades. 2) By 2050, 1 in three Americans will have diabetes. 3) Obesity is a global epidemic, and the US is no exception: it is merely a few small steps ahead. 4) 80% of products in supermarkets have (unnecessary) added sugar, including bread, tomato sauce, salads, and… well, pretty much anything you possibly CAN add sugar to. 5) Sugar is more addictive than cocaine. 6) The current generation will be the first to die younger than its parents.
That didn’t scare you away yet? Good, because there are things we can do. For instance, let’s get rid of some myths: low-fat products are not healthy, or at least certainly not always. Basically, when in the 1950s people first began to worry about weight problems, the food industry had a brilliant idea: rather than having this ruin their business, why not transform it into extra revenue? It was easy. People didn’t want to get fat, so what do you do? You take the fat out of your food! People who don’t want to get fat will buy your products without considering it, and the money will keep flowing.
Of course, there is one problem: fat plays a big role in the taste of our food, so low-fat versions are actually rather disgusting. The solution? Add sugar! Many low-fat products have much higher amounts of sugar, while it exactly those sugars, rather than fat, which cause people to gain weight and become obese.
With that solution in mind, combined with the fact that, as mentioned above, sugar is more addictive than cocaine, it’s not so difficult to think of the next step: why not add sugar to everything? And that is exactly what happened. Almost every product now adds enormous amounts of sugars, all of which are completely useless when it comes to nutrition, and which get transformed into fat almost immediately. Oh, and if you thought you aren’t affected by it because you’re still skinny, that, unfortunately, is also a myth: the fact that you’re skinny on the outside does not take away the fact that you might have a lot of fat on the inside, and THAT is what causes those diseases.
Yet we’re still stuck with the idea that “calories” are the villain, while in reality, calories are just the energy we need to survive. There is nothing wrong with protein or carbs, and even fats are vital for our body to function and to digest all of the other calories. But sugars… sugars are poison. We need them, sure, but above a certain threshold, they become nothing more than addictive poison which slowly ruins our metabolism on the long term and destroys our body on the shorter term. And that threshold isn’t high. A single can of coke each day will do it, but a “healthy” dinner with the wrong kind of sauce can get you awfully close as well.
The question is, of course, how to avoid this. How can you, as a person, eat more healthily without completely changing your lifestyle? The answer lies in the labels. Try choosing a pasta sauce with less than 6% sugar, or that loaf of bread with “only” 1% rather than 5%. A bad curry sauce can get as high as 40% or more, so the difference is huge, and all it requires is a bit of awareness. As the FDA suggests, anything with less than 5% sugar is fine, but avoid products at over 15% (which, by the way, puts a sugary fruit like strawberries near the “low sugar” range).
More than that, though, we have to start caring. Sugar is no less bad than smoking, yet we’re not banning fast food advertisements catering to children, or forcing companies to put labels on their products. We need political change, but for that to happen, we have to be aware. We have to discuss these things, share it with our friends, tell that old lady you met in the train, anything: it has to become as common knowledge as the fact that smoking kills. Because sugar is no less dangerous than tobacco.
*Viewing tip: the documentary “Fed Up”, which was also the source for the statistics. It’s a little exaggerated and definitely rather one-sided, but that doesn’t make it any less true, and it’s an interesting watch either way. I should add that it certainly wasn’t the only source.
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