Confessions of a Sugar Addict
(a Toastmasters speech)
Paradise was two feet above my head. I pushed over the tall step stool, pulled out the steps, climbed up and reached…the cookie cupboard. In round tins, Mom stored homemade chocolate chip cookies, Oreos, Nutter Butters, or whatever struck her fancy. Kitty corner to the cookie cupboard was the candy cupboard, another summit I conquered with that glorious stepstool. And these weren’t the only stashes of sweets in the house. Dad kept candy inside the desk in his upstairs den: Tootsie Rolls, Mary Janes, and Hershey’s miniature bars. He never seemed to notice when a few went missing.
Mom and Dad grew up during the Depression. Treats were for special occasions, and as adults, they could stop after one cookie. But not me. My childhood claim to fame—I used to brag about it, actually—was that I ate seven squares of my aunt’s date and chocolate chip bar, in one sitting. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and guests, I am a sugar addict. Is anyone else here addicted to sugar? Today I will talk to you about how the processed food industry replaced fat with sugar, what too much sugar does to your health, and steps you can take toward eating a healthier diet.
Scientists have found that sugar sets off the same pleasure centers of the brain as cocaine or heroin. And you know how hard it is to get a heroin addict to kick the habit! The problem is that we’ve been misled about sugar for years. During most of my adulthood, we were told that the way to lose weight was to eat low-fat food. The food industry came out with low-fat this, that and the other thing.
But when you remove fat, food tastes like cardboard. So they replaced fat with, guess what—sugar! A bag of sugar is 99.99% fat free! The food industry added high fructose corn sweetener, dextrose, rice syrup, and the 60 other names under which sugar appears on food labels. Now, the problem isn’t the sugar in fruit. When you consumer fruit with the fiber, as you do when you eat an apple, that’s OK. The problem is all the added sugar in processed foods:. According to a recent study in the Lancet, about 60% of packaged food contain some amount of added sugar. Read your labels. You’ll find added sugar in tomato sauce, whole wheat bread, low-fat yogurt, etc.
How much sugar should we be eating? For women, no more than 6 teaspoons, and for men, 9 teaspoons. The average American eats 22 teaspoons a day, says the Harvard School of Public Health. The body can absorb 1 teaspoon of sugar a day. What does it do with the rest? The pancreas releases the hormone insulin, which allows the glucose to be stored in body cells as fat.
The more sugar Americans consume, the fatter they get. We now have an obesity epidemic in the U.S.--38% of American adults are obese. Not just overweight, but obese. 18% of kids ages 6-11 are obese. Obesity can cause diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks and cancer. The Centers for Disease Contol tell us that between 1980 and 2014, the number of Americans diagnosed with diabetes quadrupled to 22 million people. About 210,000 children are living with diabetes, including Type 2 diabetes, which used to be so rare among children that it was called “adult onset” diabetes.
How can you keep your own weight down? Here are three things you can do: Get inspired, shop the edges of the supermarket, and rethink starches. First, there are several good documentaries out now. They’ll inspire you, and are readily available on Netflix. I’ll mention two: Hungry for Change discusses how the processed food industry gets you to buy more of their product by adding sugar, while the pharmaceutical industry gets you to buy medicine you need after your diet has made you sick. The documentary Fed Up is about childhood obesity, and follows overweight children who are trying and failing to lose weight by exercising and eating low-fat foods. They eat but are still hungry, thanks to all that processed sugar. It’s heart-breaking. Both of these movies talk about how you can change to a more healthy diet.
Second, once you’re inspired, shop the edges of your supermarket, where you’ll find fruits, vegetables, meat and nuts. These foods don’t contain added sugar, unless you buy honey-roasted nuts, or caramel apples.
Third, rethink starchy foods: your body converts them into sugar, which is bad, but they’re also what fill you up. Look at the bread labels. One slice of bread typically has 4 grams of sugar—it doesn’t matter if it’s white or whole wheat. Instead choose Ezekiel bread, which you can buy in the freezer section of Whole Foods. It has no sugar, and fills you up without making you crave more. Potatoes, rice and beans can be OK, too, if you cook them, then cool them down. This process creates resistant starch that is hard for your body to digest, and produces butyrate, a fatty acid which helps your body burn fat that’s stored in cells.
Are you tired of losing and gaining the same weight over and over again? Get inspired, shop the edges of the supermarket, and switch from starchy to starch resistant food. Then…spread the word to others!