Robert Lustig has been espousing the view for years that sugar is the new cocaine. I’ve only done cocaine once, and I can safely say that it had a little bit more of an effect on me than sugar does. But the cumulative effects of all the sugar inundating our society are no doubt more harmful than the fringe effects of cocaine. I once wrote a play wherein sugar had been outlawed and the results were similarly nightmarish to our current war on drugs.*
According to Lustig, sugar is addictive, and it changes your physiology so that you crave it more. Simply put, when you eat sugar you raise your insulin levels, and when you have too much insulin in your system it blocks the leptin signal that allows you to effectively regulate body fat. When fat became the bogeyman associated with obesity, fat was often replaced in processed foods with sugars (or simple carbs), and, bingo bango, we all started getting even fatter. In the U.S., per capita fructose consumption has doubled in the past 30 years. Lustig doesn’t advocate banning sugar outright, but he believes we should institute more policies that dissuade its consumption.
Right there with Lustig, the researchers James DiNicolantonio and Sean Lucan, in a recent NY Times article, summarize their findings that sugar is physically addictive. Sugar, they say, contributes to cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and kidney disease.** They prescribe, somewhat tamely, that what we ought to do is promote the consumption of more whole foods.***
Sugar is a scourge. And sugar is delicious. The other night, I ate about six peanut butter blossom cookies, three turtles, two pretzel turtles, a handful of Chex puppy chow, and a few chocolate covered pecans (and a partridge in a pear tree). The next day I felt a little sluggish, but this kind of excess is rare for me these days. In high school, I would think nothing of downing a family-size bag of M&Ms along with a Big Gulp of a Coke/Lemonade mixture (this may have had something to do with how much Clearasil I went through). Soda is an insane substance – one can of soda may have more sugar than our ancestors used to consume in a whole year. I almost never drink soda (or even juice) these days. And, especially following my experiments with low-carb diets, I eat a lot less sugar (and simple carbs) in general, and the results have been pretty good.
It’s becoming more and more apparent that a low glycemic diet is the way to go if you want to be healthier – and that includes a hell of a lot less sugar than we’ve grown accustomed to. The moral of the story: sure you had a tiger and a hot tub with a tv and you married Michelle Pfeiffer, and it was good for a while, but if you don’t want to kill your best friend and go out in a hail of gunfire, quit huffing that mountain of white powder society keeps putting on your desk. All you have in this world is your health and your word – don’t break ’em for nobody. The world is yours, meng, you are the boss. Who do you trust? You, that’s who.
Incidentally, it being New Year’s Eve and all, I’m going to perpetrate some Dionysian excess tonight, which, in addition to a fair amount of imbibing, will almost certainly involve lots of sugar intake. I’m a firm believer in punctuated equilibrium (a.k.a. occasional gluttony). I will, however, stay far away from both kinds of coke.
*I sent a query to Harper’s Magazine about publishing my play, and I received a snobby response from a pimply-faced, Ivy League intern about how Harper’s wouldn’t deign to publish such a silly thing as a satirical play – a few issues later, they published a satirical play (admittedly, one much better than mine).
**Much of that falls under what my college adviser called the O-test, for obvious.
***As with many grotesques, the sugar-is-the-source-of-all-ills crusaders may not have the whole story. Our good friend Martin Blaser argues that the high-carb, low-fat diet we’ve been on for the past 40-some years doesn’t fully explain the obesity epidemic – for that, he explains, we need to look at how we’ve changed our gut microbiota as well. Say hello to your little friends.