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The more you know about sugar, the less you'll use

Published December 18. 2010 09:00AM

Whenever I have a problem with my Apple computer at school, one of the three IT guys fixes it quickly, but says something like this before he leaves: "You know, we have a PC just waiting for you." At first, I just thought the banter showed bias against Apple products, but now I believe differently.

They make the offer for the same reason I refuse it: They just want to do their job as best they can.

The problem, you see, is I'm the only teacher, administrator, or paraprofessional in the district still using an Apple computer. The techies know that staying current with the features of an operating system simply to help a single person is not a good use of their time.

I understand that and I'm not trying to be bullheaded and belligerent. I'm just trying just as they are! to use my time wisely.

Now I realize that when more than 120 people are using one system and you are using another, you are the one who needs to change. And I will if they insist.

But not in the middle of a school year.

Before I switch, I want to understand the inner workings of Windows' operating system, so I can use it effectively. Similarly, if you take the time to understand the inner workings of another type of operating system your body it will also become far more effective.

And healthier.

Partially because you'll reduce the bad stuff you put into it.

To begin that process, let's consider something even more ubiquitous than PCs: sugar. In fact, to say it's everywhere and qualifies as bad stuff borders on egregious understatement.

Research analysis recently released by Datamonitor found that Americans are now getting an average of 17.1 percent of their daily total calories from sugar, which is more than double the global percentage and 38 percent more than the American average 32 years ago.

For an American averaging 2,500 total calories per day (the approximate amount needed to fuel a moderately active 175-pound male), that's 428 calories daily of that sweet crystalline carbohydrate that harbors virtually no nutritional value.

According to the American Heart Foundation, no man should consume more than 150 calories of sugar per day. And no female should take in more than 100 cals of the stuff.

Yet a female will surpass that number with 30 calories to spare simply by drinking a 12-ounce can of regular soda.

But soda consumption may not be at the core of the excessive consumption. After all, when you drink a regular soda, you are well aware from where all the calories come.

What may be increasing the American average now is what the July Tufts Health & Nutrition Newsletter deemed "invisible" calories, the added sugar in processed foods some that you don't even perceive as sweet, like sauces, cereals, soups, microwaveable meals.

And sports drinks.

According to Nalini Ranjit, Ph.D., and principal investigator, research done at the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston showed that "Children and parents associate [sports drinks] with a healthy lifestyle despite their increased amount of sugar and lack of nutritional value." In fact, this research, published in the October issue of Pediatrics, led to the suggestion that sports drinks should be reserved for only "extreme" exercise.

To me, that's hour-long weightlifting workouts where every set is pushed to the limit, two-hour bicycle rides at race pace, all-day hikes on demanding terrain.

For anything less, water is sufficient for hydration.

While consuming "invisible" sugars has long been linked with the obesity epidemic and the increase in cases of type 2 diabetes, new research has linked the consumption of sugar with two other medical maladies: high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure readings.

Data released this summer from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey broke the 6,113 participants into five categories based on the percentage of added sugar in the diet. The lowest group received less than 5 percent of their daily total in calories from sugar; the highest, 25 percent.

When the extreme groups were compared, the highest-intake group was more than three times more likely to have unhealthy HDL cholesterol levels than the lowest group. The highest-intake group also was more likely to have an unhealthy ratio of triglycerides to the "good type" of cholesterol, HDL.

Since high numbers in these areas are often a harbinger of cardiovascular disease, the published study suggested that added sugars be easier to spot on labels and decided that the new dietary guidelines to reduce sugar consumption, such as the aforementioned American Heart Foundation suggestion that no man consume more than 150 calories of sugar per day and no female consume more than 100 cals, are right on target.

Additionally, a study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology published this summer found consuming a specific and prevalent type of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, in the amounts found in 2.5 cans of non-diet soda daily increased the risk of hypertension in 4,500 subjects by 30 percent.

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