Time to target sugar?

The fearless Mayor Bloomberg has sugar withdrawal plans for New York.

By Jo Simon

Mayor Bloomberg (photo from New York Post)

‘We’re born to like sugar.” Scientists claim to have proof of this proclivity today.  And therein lies the rub.

We eat too much of it. Our body converts the excess sugar into fat, and stores it. Fat piles up upon fat in our bodies. And, having the wealth and access – and disposition – to continue this indulgence, we have become a fat society, with one in every four of us (24.1 per cent nationally; 28.3 per cent of Manitoba males and 25.9 per cent of our females) deemed obese in the 2007-2009 period.  In the United States, according to one calculation, 62 per cent of adults are either fat or obese.

Further, if we’re consuming an excess of refined dietary sugar, that sugar will interfere with the metabolization of cholesterol and fatty acid, contributing to a higher presence of triglycerides in our blood and promoting  a rise in harmful cholesterol.  Sucrose, fructose, honey and malts are considered the most harmful  simple sugars.

No let-up
Not many weeks pass when we don’t hear sugars blamed for some additional woes in our society and yet, perhaps because we’re born to like the stuff, indulgence continues unabated.  Remember when you could open a package of cookies and taste something other than sweetness; remember when you had to add your own (teaspoon of) sugar to your cornflakes? Remember when you could open a can of tomato soup and actually savour the tang of the tomatoes, scarcely noticing the bit of sugar that’s been added to the mix? No more.

It would be less worrisome if one could chalk up today’s tsunami of sweetness to the fact that people aren’t paying attention to what they’re being served. Their minds are on something else. Surely they don’t think the flavours of bought food are getting better.

But wait. A new voice is being heard: not a scientist, not a nutritionist but a mayor. He who is reported to have prohibited artificial trans fat in restaurant food, banned smoking in parks and restaurants, and ordered that restaurants post their health inspection results in their windows.  Mayor  Michael Bloomberg of New York City.

Last month the mayor said the city plans to ban the sale of large-sized sodas and other sugary drinks weighing over 16 ounces, in restaurants, movie theatres and on street carts. The debate that erupted won’t end soon: if the city is going to start dictating what foods people can and can’t eat, where would it end, was of course the angry response.  How dare the city so trample the individual human rights of the citizenry and interfere in their private personal lives?  And there were people who were quietly pondering the question of where and when governments should be entitled to intervene, in cases where the potential personal damage from non-interference was clearly more costly to human health and well-being than interference.

A learning process?
Nothing has happened yet.  But maybe, just maybe, we are at an important point in our history: a point where a new and historic debate has begun that somewhat parallels the debate that started in the fifties over the right of us humans to kill ourselves with cigarettes.

Our society probably doesn’t deep down recognize sugar as the villain scientists have shown it to be. We will have to reach that understanding gradually, as we did with tobacco, along with somewhat nuanced understanding that some sugar is ok, but the 135 pounds average per person per year now consumed is both dangerous and dumb.

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