Week o’ sugar–pour some sugar on me

Several years ago, Mike was visiting family in Philadelphia. After some drinks at the bar where his uncle works, he felt brave enough to hop on stage for some karaoke. The song of choice? Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” It is one of my greatest regrets that I wasn’t there to see that spectacle, and that I have no video proof to share with you here. You’ll just have to use your imagination to picture this guy,

the antithesis of a hair band, singing, “I’m hot, sticky sweet, from my head to my feet, yeah.”

Can you picture it?

Besides the obvious challenges in the hair department, there’s another reason I find Mike’s song choice a little odd: he’s not a sugar guy. Yes, he likes the occasional sweet, and often bugs me to make his favorite peanut butter pie. But when I asked if he wanted to join me on this sugar challenge, he said, “Ok, but what’s the challenging part?” Have I mentioned he’s kind of a jerk?

For those of us with a constant craving for the sweet stuff, them’s fightin’ words. Because if you struggle to limit your sugar intake, it IS a challenge–a big one. Judging by the current weight of our nation (not to mention common sense), most people would agree with me, not him. Here’s a couple of statistics to back me up:

Early humans ate about 4 pounds of sugar a year. By comparison, in 2008, the average American ate 136 pounds of sugar in the form of white sugar, corn sweeteners, honey, molasses and other syrups. (Excerpted from Sugar Shock,”Experience L!fe magazine, May 2011).

Put another way, the Journal of the American Medical Association says that Americans eat an average of 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day. The American Heart Association recommends a maximum of about six teaspoons a day for women, and 9 teaspoons for men.

While I’m not crazy enough to announce my weight to the world, I will say that I’m close enough to 136 pounds to make this visual work.

Here’s me

Many of you are eating a “me” of sugar each year. By contrast, here’s what 4 pounds looks like

And 22 teaspoons?

Can you imagine swallowing the sugar pictured, spoonful by spoonful, day after day? Yuck.

But we do. We consume it straight up in cookies, candy and soda; and we eat it hidden in spaghetti sauce, peanut butter and salad dressing. We are pouring it down our gullet just as surely as if we were spooning it in.

And it’s killing us. Slowly but surely, we are destroying our systems. The biggest revelation in recent years is that sugar causes inflammation on a cellular level. That may sound like no big deal because cells are tiny, after all. But our bodies are constructed of those cells, so if the cells are inflamed, well then so is the entire body. When I imagine my own personal inflammation, as I sometimes do, I think about my insides, red, puffy, and angry. It’s not a pretty picture.

Over time, chronic inflammation leads to a host of illnesses, from the obvious, such as diabetes and heart disease, to the stealthier autoimmune disorders, cancer and candida. According to Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of Beat Sugar Addiction Now!, “If you eat a standard American diet, you likely have a problem with sugar, whether you know it or not.”

As Mike and I clearly illustrate, some people have a bigger problem than others, and science has figured that out too. Sugar activates the brain’s happy place, causing it to release dopamine and endorphins. But as Kathleen DesMaisons, PhD, author of Potatoes Not Prozac: Solutions for Sugar Sensitivity, and a leading researcher of sugar and addiction has found, there are those of us who are more “sugar sensitive.” We naturally have lower levels of feel-good brain chemicals, driving us to eat more sweets in order to get a happiness rush. To make matters worse, studies suggest that each sweet binge reinforces that brain chemistry, giving sugar cravings an even greater hold.

It sounds like scientists think sugar is a drug, right? Yes, actually, they do. I wrote about the subject several months ago, and in my recent reading, I found reference to a 2007 study in which lab rats chose sugar water over cocaine. But unlike cocaine, sugar doesn’t really have a negative stigma. We don’t have “sugar heads” or mandatory sugar counseling like we do for drug addicts. Rather, we laugh about overindulging in sweets, bonding with our girlfriends over ice cream or sugary cocktails. We enable each other and tempt each other, reinforcing the physical and mental aspects of sugar.

So what’s a sugar fiend to do? Give up all joy cake forever? Live a sad, sweetless, existence? Of course not. I’d never celebrate my birthday again if I couldn’t have cake. But there are ways to lighten your sugar load without giving up dessert entirely. Tomorrow I’ll expose some of the hidden sugar in our diet, as well as some tactics for taming those cravings.

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