Best of the Week: Our Most Popular Stories

Photo: cleber It's never possible to make all the right choices when it comes to food. Sometimes we think we've got the basics down, but then we realize that the labels on our food aren't as straightforward as we thought. The low-fat diets we thought were getting us closer to happily healthy? Turns out, sugar might be the bigger and unseen culprit. But in better news, maybe we can throw out the no-pasta rule: there's a local, slow-food (not to mention gourmet and tasty) option now from two Italians in California. And when it comes to protecting our skin from the sun, there's a (tasty) extra step we can take without that sunscreen smell. And, the city of New York is joining us this week and expanding its recycling programs to include compositing initiatives. There--feeling better already.

Photo: kristyhall

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Sugar: The Bitter Truth

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sugar cubes

Sugar: The Bitter Truth

sugar cubes The low-fat diet for the last 30 some odd years has not only been all the rave, but in fact endorsed by health institutions and nutritionists alike. The one thing that has been overlooked, however, could be the one reason we have the highest obesity and  other metabolic syndrome (hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes) rates than ever before.

Dr. Robert Lustig, author of The Real Truth About Sugar is an advocate of bringing the truth about our "low-fat" diets to light. The truth is that even though our foods have been scientifically manipulated to have lower amounts of fat (whatever type it may be), they (the food industry) are replacing those fats with carbohydrates or fructose, which doubles as fat and sugar. What's more? He's come to prove that the effects of fructose have nothing to do with calories, and everything to do with our body's aversion to it.

Dr. Lustig's research shows that the major problems with fructose as a posed to glucose (the main source of energy for life of all living things) has to do with its inability to communicate with the brain, and its properties that, just like alcohol, are metabolized in the liver and act more as a poison to our bodies than a source of energy.

Why he says its okay to eat fructose from whole fruits: Mother nature cleverly packaged its fructose in much more fiber so that the insulin response is better regulated and the sugar metabolizes more quickly than if you ate the fructose alone, not to mention the additional benefit of micronutrients that are in natural fruits.

The scary bit: We don't realize it or even think to check, but sugar is in everything! From hamburger buns to pretzels, some form of sugar slips its way in, and no one's the wiser (of course not, who would think high fructose corn syrup would be the 3rd leading ingredient in most store bought whole wheat bread, a supposedly healthful food).

high fructose corn syrup in whole wheat bread

Some Solutions? 

Get rid of sugary liquids: They are the main source of over sugar overdose; even fruit juice strips whole fruits of their fiber, leaving only high amounts of fructose behind.

Eat carbohydrates with fiber: Fiber helps to slow down the absorption of the carbohydrates in your body, moves the food through your system faster, and also tells you  you are full sooner.

Wait 20 minutes for 2nd portions: Often times we immediately reach for a second helping that are bodies don't have enough time to tell us that we have had enough. Give yourself sometime in between helpings, more times than not, you'll feel full and realize you don't need or even want that second portion. Save any leftovers and enjoy them again when your actually hungry.

Buy your screen time minute-by-minutes with physical activity: If you plan on watching T.V. for 30 minutes, try to schedule in a walk or some sort of exercise for 30 minutes as well.

For more tips to reduce sugar consumption, read Food Republic's The Great Sugar Debate.

Why is exercise important? Unlike many people think, it's not about burning more calories than you consume (if this was the case, we'd all need to be Forrest Gumping our way through life). It is about:

  • Improving skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity: Insulin works better at the muscle, therefore bringing the need for high insulin levels down.
  • Reducing stress: Exercise is the most natural way for us to release stress, and when stress reduces, appetite reduces.  And as many of us know, stress is another major player in weight gain and obesity.

So while Americans thought they were safe in sticking to a recommended "low-fat" diet, the high numbers of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease say otherwise; the culprit has secretly slipped in to almost everything we eat leaving us all quite confused.

To learn more about Sugar's bitter truth, watch Dr. Robert Lustig's video below:

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By The Numbers: Sugar Consumption

According to an archival survey, courtesy of the Agricultural Research Service by the USDA, sugar consumption in 1955 for a single occupied household was about 63 grams of sugar per day.

The modern suggested limit for added sugar, prescribed by The American Heart Association, is about 45 grams per day. Based on the idea of "added sugar" versus "naturally occurring sugar", AHA would probably have let the solo survey participant slide with a the little extra sugar in his diet. It was the 50's, you know. We were just getting all that exciting baking equipment.

However, today, the average American is consuming about 92 grams of sugar per day, with even more daunting numbers for teenagers; some averages as high as 161 grams.

Of course, sugar is not solely responsible for obesity in America (The Center for Disease Control shows a triple in obesity rates in teens over the last 30 years) but there is a remarkable correlation between increased added sugar intake in 1955 and now.

In New York, the sugar conversation couldn't be more sour as the beginning of "The Soda Ban" is realized in exactly one week.

The details of the now passed proposal are somewhat confusing. I'd suggest watching this NY Times video from September for a pretty clear-cut explanation.

For more topics by the numbers:

Should Sugar Be Regulated?


Most people are aware of the consequences of consuming too much sugar, but one report suggests that the effects are more serious than they appear to be. In fact, the piece recommends that sugar itself is a toxin that should be regulated. According to Time, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco released an opinion piece that advocates controlling the sales of sugary products and rejects the popular idea that the sugar is simply "empty calories."

"There is nothing empty about these calories," the piece says. "A growing body of scientific evidence is showing that fructose can trigger processes that lead to liver toxicity and a host of other chronic diseases. A little is not a problem, but a lot kills - slowly."

The piece comes at a time when sugar consumption has come under more scrutiny. The average American adult consumes at least 22 teaspoons of sugar daily, and the average teen swallows at least 34 teaspoons of sugar. At least 17% of American children and teens are obese, while the sugar intake across the world has tripled in the past five decades. In order to reduce health risks related to high sugar consumption, the report says that the sales of sugary products to those under 17 should be controlled. It also suggests taxing foods high in fructose.

"We're not talking prohibition," said Laura Schmidt, one of the authors of the piece. "We're not advocating a major imposition of the government into people's lives. We're talking about gentle ways to make sugar consumption slightly less convenient, thereby moving people away from the concentrated dose. What we want is to actually increase people's choices by making foods that aren't loaded with sugar comparatively easier and cheaper to get."

Some places across the world have already taken the initiative to reduce sugar consumption. France, Greece and Denmark, for instance, have levied taxes on soda, and at least 20 cities and states in America may follow suit.  Last summer, Philadelphia nearly passed a legislation that would impose a 2-cents-per-ounce soda tax.
Still, some critics have pointed out that the effects of sugar regulation can transcend health issues. Scott Dailey of the Wall Street Journal, for example, jokingly warned that the social effects of such regulation can be drastic. "As parents, we'll need be to especially vigilant," Dailey wrote. "First, we'll have to clear out the liquor cabinet so we can lock up the sugar and baking supplies. Then we'll need to be on the alert so our kids don't circumvent our most conscientious efforts."

As serious as the researchers' concerns may be, the authors concede that the regulation of sugar is difficult since many consider it a necessary vice. "We recognize that there are cultural and celebratory aspects of sugar," said Claire Brindis. "Changing these patterns is very complicated."

Do you think sugar should be regulated in order to help stop the obesity epidemic?

Photo: dmolsen

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Sugar's Bitter Beginnings

By: Dylan Rodgers

Sugar is by far one of the most popular commodities on the planet. It has converted tons of people into tea and coffee drinkers and blessed mankind with wonderfully sweet treats. But the process of sugar's rise to greatness could leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Originally harvested from New Guinea in the 1500s by European mariners, the sweet cane-grass was carried to Brazil and the Caribbean. By the 17th century, sugar was in every household in Great Britain. In fact, by 1850, the average Brit consumed about 35 lbs. of sugar a year. It changed the worlds understanding of food and drinks, plain and simple. The sugar market took off like a rocket propelling those invested in the business to amazing wealth. These "sugar barons" find power far more addicting than the sweet crystals responsible for their success.

Matthew Parker, author of The Sugar Barons, tells the brutal story of how three British families kept a strangle hold on the sugar business. Murder, torture, rape, and far more unmentionable acts of psychopathic behavior were common place in daily sugar business without repercussions. Parker demonstrates the brutality in early sugar cultivation with details of how planters were deliberately cruel towards their slaves and commended for such ferocity.

Poetic justice, sweet as the sugar they killed for, struck the sugar barons and washed away their empire like sandcastles in high-tide. Boiling sugar cane used up all the natural wood resources on the smaller islands; competition arose in the form of the French, the Spanish, and a sugar beets; malaria and yellow fever struck a lethal blow; the heirs of the barons became drunks and sexual deviants. Their sexual behavior sterilized much their blood line through STDs, and without sons to inherit the money, all that the barons worked for withered away.

So next time you taste the wonderfully sweet flavor of sugar, keep in mind the terrible nature of its beginning. But don't let it ruin the taste, because though the story began horribly, the end of the sugar barons' chapter remains an example of sweet, sugary justice.