Pour Some Sugar on Me

By Dr. Asha Fields Brewer

It has caused many a woman to question the late-night activities of her spouse. It has tempted the most dedicated to taking the long way home. Our youth are even hiding it from their parents at younger and younger ages. What is the culprit?

Sugar. Going by its formal name of “carbohydrates,” sugar is regarded as the primary fuel source of healthy bodies. The brain, heart, muscles and other organs prefer carbohydrates to other sources of energy. However, going by the stage name of “sugar,” the guilty party has been given the bad rap of causing weight gain, liver disease and diabetes.

If it was just the ice cream causing our ill health, we might be in better shape. Why? Because we all grow up knowing confectionary foods are to be enjoyed sparingly. The issue is that not every sugar is hot, sticky or sweet. Frequently used items such as salad dressings, sauces, yogurts and flavored drinks contain hidden sugars. Unbeknownst to many consumers, we are smothering the health out of our food. Some believe we have the marketing industry to thank for this
mass deception.

Children are a target demographic for marketers, because they “shape the buying patterns of their families,” according to Dr. Sandra Calvert’s spring 2008 article in The Future of Children. Calvert further mentions, “Paid advertising to children primarily involves television spots that feature toys and food products, most of which are high in fat and sugar and low in nutritional value.”

The Federal Trade Commission, a governmental regulation agency, launched restrictions against youth-targeted sugar marketing in the late 1970s. But these restrictions were swiftly retracted, due to lobbying from the food industry, as recorded by the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law’s April 2010 issue. What is even more unfortunate is that children have developed an affinity for both blatantly sugary and inconspicuously sugary foods alike. Some would even call it an addiction.

Regardless of the source—money, praise, drugs, food, etc.—the brain registers all pleasurable experiences in the same way. Harvard Medical School warns us in the July 2011 article “How Addiction Hijacks the Brain” that addiction changes the brain by “subverting the way it registers pleasure.” You are likely not surprised that sugar makes our pleasure centers light up brighter than a Def Leppard sound stage. Remember how it felt to bring home smiley-faces from preschool and be rewarded with a cookie? Or maybe you remember the anticipation of earning a kid’s meal—complete with a burger, soda, and fries—in exchange for a good report card? While our parents meant well, this reward system taught us to register good behavior not as a noble act, but as a way to feed our pleasure center. After decades of reinforcement, it is no wonder that we have such an issue with sugar as adults.

Despite the marketing tactics, the addictions, and the 1980s telling us to keep pouring it on, how do we get out of this sugary mess? One easy method is to swap out hidden sugars for real food:

  Homemade salad dressing—Most of our favorite salad dressings are laden with sugar. Make your own dressing with olive oil, vinegar and herbs.

  Sauce boss—From ketchup to barbecue sauce, our favorite meats are often accompanied by sugar. Try making your own sauce with combinations of herbs, citrus fruits and a bit of unsweetened applesauce or honey. This way you have more control over how much sugar you ingest.

  Smarter smoothies—A number of smoothie establishments include sugar as one of their ingredients. Ask your favorite smoothie bar to hold the sugar or use a little less, so you can enjoy the more natural fruit sugar instead.

  Spa water—Water-flavoring powders and liquids and other flavored drinks also sneak in some sugar. Instead, use fruit to flavor your water, like you have seen at the spa. Then add an earthy twist with mint or basil leaves. Feel free to pour this lightly sweetened beverage as often as you wish.