Sugar is toxic. Sugar is poison. Those are the words of Dr. Robert Lustig, a Pediatric Endocrinologist at the University of California San Francisco. The message, undoubtedly harsh, is at risk of being too easily unaccepted and denied. Many of our cultures revolve around sweetness--- a desirable sensation, a reward, a desirable state of being, and an aspirational quality of life. Imagine all those notions and rituals that we have built around sweetness and sugar that are now being challenged... Bitterness, indeed.
In the informative lecture video:
Dr. Lustig explains how fructose, one of the many forms of sugars we consume (or over consume) is being metabolized by the liver through pathways similar to processing ethanol (yes, alcohol) that usually ends up as triglycerides. And there goes your plethora of metabolic and chronic diseases, including depression, moody-ness etc.
Think about it. Serving high fructose beverage (soda pop, juices etc) to children is like serving them alcohol.
Not only has fructose been made so ubiquitous in our food (even ketchup has it!) because it is cheap, fructose consumption creates “habituation”. Our body’s feedback mechanism for satiety (feeling of fullness and “I had enough of food already!”) is being blindsided by fructose (sneaky bastard).
And that is why we just go on eating and eating mostly empty calories. And that is why the processed food industry is more than happy to produce these and make some sweet cash...
Interestingly, the history of sugar production itself has its share of bitter evilness. Many of the slaves that were brought to “new colonies/ new world” were (some are still) forced to labor for sugar plantations. Some of the most horrific, vomit-inducing stories of abuse were borne out of sugar plantations. Cringing already?
Addiction is defined as continually doing something despite knowing that this something harms us.
Have we fallen in love hopelessly and helplessly with sugar that we have become sugar addicts?
Getting out of addiction is not an easy task. Dan Hurley in his book “Diabetes Rising” wrote:
“Although we often assume the battle of the bulge to be a fair fight between us and that ice-cream cone, in fact, there are unseen agents in the cone’s corner. There are also potent psychological influences manipulated by food marketers who have carefully researched very trick in the book for making you ‘choose’ to buy that cone instead of, say, raspberries. ‘Of your own free will.’ It’s harder to quit overeating, apparently, than quit smoking.”
I do not want to believe that all has been lost. I think we need to build communities of support to turn the sugar addiction and habit around. It's not that it is hard to be healthy. It has just become too easy to be unhealthy and make poor health choices.
Inspiration and promise comes from the evolution of “love” in the human brain. In the cortical region of the brain, the part that probably evolved/ evolving last, we can find a typology of “love” that is not “obsessive” and not of the “drunk” kind. But we find a kind of love that is geared towards long term sustainability, living peacefully with our partner/s, and towards rearing children for genetic survival.
It is interesting how the fronal cortex seem to coincide with the ajna chakra - an energy centre in the Hindu tradition. As in yoga practice, one can meditate and nurture this chakra, the so-called Third eye of Conscience and Awareness.
I hope we all find that cortical neural activation and connection, that awareness and courage to choose healthier food and food culture, soon enough. Video above shows my favorite Helen Fisher lecture on The Brain in Love.
For now, I use a mantra, the words of a young Russian ballerina deliberating on pastries:
“What’s sweet on the lips is tough on the hips.”