It’s now common knowledge that lifestyle factors’lack of exercise, smoking and obesity among them ‘ can increase your risk of some cancers, diabetes and other diseases. But a provocative article in this week’s New York Times Magazine has me thinking about a new risk factor’sugar.
Not that any of us, I’m sure, have ever thought of sugar as healthy per se. But it’s always seemed innocuous in the face of villains such as salt and fat. After all, a cupcake is so cute and innocent looking next to a big greasy hamburger and fries.
The article, written by researcher Gary Taubes (whom we recently interviewed about his new book), is a long one’but well worth the time investment. It details some of the history of sugar research and makes the argument that consumption of refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) (both of which are about 50-50 glucose and fructose) has a strong effect on the body’s ability to regulate insulin levels. And insulin, say researchers, promotes tumour growth’so it’s not a great thing to have high levels of it running around your body.
So there you have it. Could sugar be the next devil food?
My opinion? I wouldn’t be surprised at all if high consumption of sugar and HFCS were linked to obesity and related diseases‘I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s heard a lot of anecdotal evidence that cutting out pop is an effective weight-loss strategy, and pop is nothing but sugar (and maybe caffeine). And Taubes is the first to admit that no one knows yet what "high consumption" means, or what "safe" levels may be, if it turns out refined sugar really is a major culprit when it comes to cancer rates. I don’t think it’s a bad idea for any of us (my major sweet tooth included) to cut back on refined sugars in favour of whole foods. (Though note that Taubes has a negative opinion of just about all carbohydrates.)
But I worry that by singling out sugar as "the bad thing," we’re missing the point that biology doesn’t work in isolation. Sugar, fat and salt’the trio that make everything taste better’are all overconsumed in our society. And even those of us who exercise "enough" are often tied to desk jobs that mean we sit all day’which has been shown to be bad for you, too. It’s the combination of factors (combined with the genetic lottery) that makes us gain weight and develop disease‘and by focusing on single elements of the picture, we end up with a confused population and idiotic labelling practices like calling potato chips "cholesterol free," as if that made them healthy. (Quick tip: only animal products contain cholesterol.) So I’m interested in where this research leads, but with the caveat that nutritional science is infinitely complex, as are human bodies, and there’s really no easy, instant solution to everlasting health.
What do you think? How much sugar do you eat, and will this new research change your habits?