The news about sugar remains bad… Really bad. Over the past five years (and counting), this column has pronounced prophesies of doom on sugar. That sparkling, blushing, crystalline, sweet stuff is a villain. Today, we’ll see how villainous sugar really is. We’ll probe the dark recesses of addiction to sugar: sugarholism.
On those who eat too much sugar, a double devil commonly preys. The pair is obesity and diabetes. We know all that. We also accept that the two are not the friendliest of ailments. [Of course, there is no such thing as a friendly ailment. But, this is life. All things are relative.]
SHOCKING FACTS ON FIZZIES
Two weeks ago, we listed four shocking facts on fizzy drinks. Fizzies fatten internal organs. Fizzies increase blood levels of cholesterol. Fizzies contain hazardous stuff which can cause bromide poisoning. And, fizzies are habit-forming. That was the hint at dark things to come.
CONTROL THEM LIKE DRUGS!
This week’s message is dark. It is so dark that it requires weighty, laser-lit support. The source which informs our message is found in Nature. Now, scientific journals do not come more authoritative than the one which bares that brief, seminal and unassuming name: Nature.
Our case is simple. Sugar is habit-forming. To support it, exhibit #1 is an article published in Nature. Written by Lustig, Schmidt and Brindis, the article has an equally dark title: The toxic truth about sugar. [See Nature, Volume 482; 02 February 2012.] The sum of Lustig’s argument is this: “Added sweeteners pose dangers to health that justify controlling them like alcohol”.
ONE GULP, FIVE WOES
In passing, here is another important, dark truth. [I make no apologies for the next two book-long words: “metabolic syndrome”.] From now on, readers, please remember this expression. “One gulp, five woes.” The metabolic syndrome is a mixed bag of complex disorders, five in number.
The expectation of The Ghanaian Times and these column is this. We use all the tools in the kit-box of adult educators to aid readers’ recall of our messages. Today, we appeal to association. So, how many dimensions has Wellness in all its fullness? Do you recall? Eight.Similarly, how many diseases constitute the metabolic syndrome? Five.
Lustig and co put it this way. “Up to 40 per cent of normal-weight people develop the diseases that constitute the metabolic syndrome”. The deadly five are diabetes, hypertension, lipid problems, cardiovascular disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.” So, instead of double devil, we have quintuple devil preying on you, if you eat too much sugar.
CALL A DOG A BAD NAME…
And, shoot it. Lustig and co remind us. “The UN targets tobacco, alcohol and diet as risk factors in non-communicable disease. Two of these— tobacco and alcohol — are regulated by governments to protect public health, leaving one of the primary culprits behind this health crisis unchecked.”
Please note. Not only have tobacco, alcohol and diet been named in the same fetid breath. The three have also been painted with the same tarry brush: culprit. It implies that, like dogs, they can be labeled ‘bad’, and shot on sight.
THE SAME TARRY BRUSH
Let’s look at the reasons why booze, puff and candies belong to the same order of culpability. [I continue to quote from Lustig and co]. A certain Thomas Babor and colleagues published a book called Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity. Babor established four criteria to justify the regulation of booze.
They are unavoidability (or pervasiveness throughout society), toxicity, potential for abuse and negative impact on society.
Believe it or not, Lustig and co argue that “Sugar meets the same criteria [as alcohol]. So, sugar warrants societal intervention.” In short, slap taxes on candies. [We’ll take up that strand of the debate on another day.]
FROM HARD TO EASY TO GET
“Consider unavoidability. Sugar has been added to nearly all processed foods. Nature made sugar hard to get; man made it easy.”
SUGAR IS TOXIC
Full stop. There is evidence to show that eating too much sugar harms ‘health beyond adding calories’. Examples include the following. Sugar induces all the five diseases in metabolic syndrome. Sugar speeds up the ageing process. Sugar ruins the liver in much the same way as hard booze. Sugar is linked to human cancer, and, loss of memory with age.” (Lustig and co, 2012)
And now, back to the beginning.
‘DOST THOU LIE SO LOW?’
I never knew I’d live to see sugar sink so low! It compelled this instant recall. “O mighty Sugar! Dost thou lie so low? Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils. Shrunk to this little measure? Fare thee well.” [With apologies to Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1.]
Lustig and co opened this section of the case against sugar with one almighty swipe of the tarry brush. “Like tobacco and alcohol…” ‘Kai’! Please, permit me to repeat. “Like tobacco and alcohol, sugar acts on the brain to encourage subsequent intake. There are studies on the dependence-producing properties of sugar.”
The deed is done through a series of chemicals called hormones.
Sugar messes up three key signals to the brain. One signal screams: “Agyei! I’m hungry.” The second says: “My friend, stop! You are full.” The third tells you to say of Auntie Akwele’s kelewele: “Wow!”
The bottom line is this. Sugar compels you to become an Oliver Twist. You ask for more! Blood demands blood. Sugar demands more sugar. Such is the footpath leading downhill to the road called sugar-dependence. Such is the beginning of sugarholism.
We promised to probe the dark recesses of sugarholism. This is it.... The big, dark one. Sugar is not content to derange organs such as taste buds, stomach, liver and their like. As far as sugar is concerned, these are gnats. Sugar goes for the jugular. “Sugar acts on the brain to encourage subsequent intake.” [No mixed metaphor intended.]
As we found two weeks ago, so again this week... If you are not addicted to sugar, you’ll find kicking candies out of your life is like munching cola nuts. But, if you are sweating bullets trying to swallow coffee without sugar, you need not spend cash on Clinical Psychologists. Know this fact. You are hooked. You are a sugarholic.
GET BEHIND ME!
It would be nice if readers’ closing lines were these: “Sugar, be shrunk to this little measure! Sugar, fare thee well.” Or, better still, choose this terser, fiercer language from a much Higher Authority: “Get thee behind me, satan sugar!”