Dangers of a Sweet Tooth

What’s your favorite food? If you live in the United States, it’s more likely to be apple pie than fresh apples; rice pudding than steamed rice; peanut butter than raw nuts; and a big banana split rather than a big, ripe banana.

The American diet contains relatively large proportions of salt, sugar, and saturated fat, compared to that of other nations. In fact, Americans consume 25 percent more added refined sugar than people in any other nation in the world. But that reality, and the many nutritionists’ warnings about it, has not stopped Americans from continuing their eating habits.

Sugar's Role in Preventable Illnesses

As we see in XiveTV’s sobering Is Sugar the New Fat?, the many preventable illnesses in which refined sugar is implicated range from childhood dental problems to diabetes, liver problems, stroke, heart attack, even impaired brain function

Hosted by noted psychologist and New Zealand TV presenter Nigel Latta, with commentary by USC professor of childhood endocrinology Robert Lustig, author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease, the documentary presents a compelling argument that added sugars should be treated with the seriousness accorded to the negative dietary impact from fats.

The dangers of fats in our diet are well recognized, and there is some evidence that at least certain segments of the U.S. population are beginning to heed warnings and slow the decades-long rise in fat consumption. However, attention to the health risks of refined sugar that is routinely added to our food has yet to reach the same level of concern.

Comparing the Health Risks of Sugar and Fat

Recent studies have begun to compare the effects on health of saturated fats and refined sugar, and the results have been stunning, to say the least. For example, a study published this year in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases has shown that patients in the United States diagnosed with coronary heart disease (CHD) who consume

a diet high in refined (processed) sugar . . . began to experience several signs of heart abnormalities, like higher levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL (bad cholesterol), and lower levels of HDL (good cholesterol), all of which increase their risk of heart disease. Meanwhile, saturated fats increased levels of LDL, but in doing so also increased levels of HDL, making their negative impact on the heart less dangerous compared to sugar. Ultimately, this led researchers to conclude in their study that “sugar consumption, particularly in the form of refined added sugars, are (sic) a greater contributor to CHD than saturated fats.” [emphasis added]

This news seems to be getting around. Increasingly, sugar is recognized as “uniquely harmful,” more so than fat and other elements of the American diet.

In his groundbreaking book Salt Sugar Fat, author Michael Moss explains the effects these food additives have on our bodily and brain functions, and how our society came to rely on convenience foods that have alarming levels of these non-essential ingredients. So, even if you think you’re eating healthy, someone has more than likely already made choices about the food choices you make.

A Reason for Hope and for Health

The typical American diet does not lend itself well to long-term health. But, as Nigel Latta notes in Is Sugar the New Fat?, it is advisable to make changes in our eating habits to reduce our consumption of added sugars.

There is a healthful way forward if we change what we eat, how we eat, and especially the attitude we take toward the food we consume. It takes time, effort, and will power, of course, but the effects can be quickly visible on our waistlines and, more importantly, in the health of our blood, brains, and bodily functions.