Years ago, a teacher I didn't know very well entered my classroom after school. He told me because he was overweight and out of shape, he had recently purchased a bicycle and wanted to ask me a few questions about riding.
I remember answering questions about proper tire pressure, which roads to use around Palmerton for bicycling, and, most importantly, just how long and how hard he'd have to ride to see results.
The teacher seemed sincere. I wanted to help. I suggested riding four times a week for 30 to 40 minutes on fairly flat terrain with an emphasis on keeping the legs moving quickly in an easy gear.
The man liked the plan until he found out the weight loss would only amount to about a pound every two weeks. He wanted to increase that rate, so I asked about his diet.
And learned the man drank six cans of soda a day.
That's at least 720 calories a day, I told him. Cut back to three cans, ride the bike the way we planned, and you'll increase the weight loss to a bit more than a pound a week.
I expected the man would be thrilled. Instead, he thought for a moment and in a voice as lacking in emotion as soda is of nutrition said, "I could never do that."
Although we talked many times after that, he never asked about diet or exercise again. He never dropped any noticeable weight, either.
For years, I thought that story was the perfect story to illustrate how weak-willed America had become. But now I'm not so sure anymore. Now I think it might better represent how strong our addiction to sugar has become.
In a column last December, I shared two statistics: that a recent study placed consumption of sugar by the average American at 17.1 percent of total daily calories or 428 of the 2,500 calories needed to fuel a moderately active 175-pound male; and that the American Heart Association suggests that no man consume more than 150 calories of sugar per day.
Since the average adult male weighs a bit more than that, it's not a stretch to say most men ingest at least triple the amount of suggested sugar.
This March a study released at the American Heart Association's Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism/Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention 2011 Scientific Sessions found a correlation between sugar intake and weight gain. The study reviewed sugar consumption and weight gain in Minnesotan adults from ages 25 to 74 over 27 years.
The researchers found that added sugar intake increased BMI (Body Mass Index) levels in both men and women and that overall sugar intake had increased in both sexes over the 27 years though a few individual years showed a decline.
If those statistics are just a bit too abstract for you, consider these. In a study published in the Annual Review of Nutrition last year, women's eating habits were tracked from 1970 to 2000. Not surprisingly, calorie intake over the 30 years increased significantly from 1,652 calories to 2,028 yet calories from protein and what we deem healthy fats actually decreased dramatically.
Sugar consumption, however, increased dramatically.
What all this suggests to me is that the claim David Reuben, M.D. made in his book Everything You Wanted to Know About Nutrition But Were (Avon, 1979) was correct. Sugar shares more than a remarkably close chemical structure to cocaine.
It's just as addicting.
Subsequently, studies with rats have confirmed that, which led to counter studies that denied it, but further debate over the matter just obfuscates the most important fact: sugar has the ability to do bad things to your body.
In Suicide by Sugar (Square One Publishers, 2009), Nancy Appleton, Ph.D., list 140 reasons why sugar harms your health. The following are just a few that may come as a surprise to you. Sugar causes:
-some premature aging;
-some forms of arthritis;
-some suppression of the immune system;
-some cases of asthma;
-some types of depression;
-some food allergies;
-some cases of PMS to get worse;
-an increase in salt and water retention;
-a decrease in growth hormone;
-an increase in estradiol (a naturally occurring estrogen) in men.
And Appleton lists 130 more! With the sort of evidence used in this article easily available, you'd think that America's use of sugar would lessen. Instead, we're eating more of the stuff than ever before.
So whether it's a result of a weak will or a strong addiction, doesn't really matter.
What matters is that most Americans have developed a pattern that is clearly harmful to their health.
So you should take a close look at your diet possibly write down a few days' worth of meals and amounts and determine how much sugar you really ingest. If it's more than 150 calories and you're a male or more than 100 if you're a female, you need to decide whether that short-term sweet taste is worth sour health.