There seem to be many articles lately on our deadly food supply. Maybe I remember something important.
My title is deliberately eye-catching, of course, and I got the idea from an article sent to me by a friend about Robert Lustig, M.D. An American pediatric endocrinologist and professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco, he has become famous through a talk titled “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.” His mission is to warn the entire world that sugar is a kind of poison and the foremost cause of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
The topic is of special interest to me because I have had a fierce sweet tooth for most of my life, and I think I know how this started. If I’m correct, it’s a very good example of how the food industry of the United States became the villain, as Lustig asserts, in the development of a worldwide epidemic of obesity.
I have to say at the outset that I never got fat in spite of my sweet tooth, so I guess I am an anomaly in this regard. I think I’ve heard that before. And, no, my slenderness in spite of medical prediction may not be used to debunk climate change science. Now back to the beginning.
I have a memory of lying on a bed as a child drinking a warm bottle of milk–sweet milk. I also have a very early memory of the Karo Syrup label. When I left baby bottles behind, I also left milk behind, because the sweetness was the only thing that made it palatable to me. Perhaps adding Karo to it was the thing that turned me into a sugar freak.
I don’t blame my mother. When I looked up milk and Karo on the Internet, I discovered that mothers are still adding Karo to milk–to treat constipation. Apparently there was dark Karo in the beginning with something in it that was a mild laxative, but the Mayo Clinic says that this ingredient is no longer included and advises against using it for this purpose.
As I was listening to Dr. Lustig’s talk, though, I wondered how many mothers over time unwittingly embedded a taste for sweets among their children through sweetened milk. After all, isn’t milk good for children? Aren’t you being a good mother by doing whatever it takes to make it appealing? And aren’t we all supposed to drink milk forever? I mean, think of all those ads starring celebrities with white mustache saying “You never outgrow your need for milk.”
When I got interested in alternative medicine, however, I discovered a raft of medical material saying that dairy products should be avoided for a variety of reasons. They are associated with allergies, excessive muscus production, indigestion, weight gain, and also heart disease. Then there is that lactose intolerance thing, and their contribution to building sound bones is questioned as well. Go figure.
Whom do you trust, anyway? Certainly not the food industry, according to Lustig. Dairy is well represented among all grocery store shelves loaded with products filled with sugar. The danger is rising. Back in 1975, each of us on average consumed about 63 pounds of sugar per person. Now the figure is 141 pounds per year. So what happened?
Well, high fructose corn syrup happened. It was introduced in 1975, and it is a lot cheaper than sugar from cane or beets. Because it also acts as a preservative, it is loaded into processed foods. In addition, it is addictive, especially when paired with high levels of salt, so it serves to stimulate sales. And according to Lustig, it also disables a hunger hormone called grehlin that sends a message to stop eating when the stomach is full.
Of course there are a number of lifestyle issues afoot that affect the obesity epidemic afflicting about a third of Americans. However, as our diet spreads worldwide, so is obesity. Our rate is the highest in the world followed by China and India. The big three, literally.
Unfortunately, the FDA and the Department of Agriculture are doing nothing to address this problem. Farmers and food manufacturers are represented by fleets of lobbyists as well as campaign contributions, so people who are interested in living healthier lives are kind of on our own.
Being a consumer may be more hazardous in the grocery store than just about anywhere. We would undoubtedly be so much better off if we cooked from scratch everything we eat or eat it raw. In fact, Lustig says that type 2 diabetes could be cured in a month if a patient ate everything raw as it came up out of the ground.
He’s a rather flamboyant personality, however, and ended his talk stating that the only two things we would ideally drink are water and milk. My response to the latter is not only “Yech” but also “What do you think about all this research to the contrary?”
Clearly, diet is a complicated issue on its face. It’s becoming even more complicated by the growing need to consider what is best for the environment and civilization at large, as well as our individual bodies. I’ll pause here, but I’ll be back.