With the New Year in full swing, many of you either are happily into your New Years resolutions or have woefully abandoned them. Or, you may be like me, and just never made one to begin with. Regardless, this time of year brings up a lot of talk about diet for those young and old. And, as this is not physical season at Legacy Pediatrics when we tend to talk the most about proper nutrition and eating habits, it does tend to be the time of year when it is on people’s minds. So here are some of my thoughts and conversations that I end up having with parents and children when talking about nutrition.
Interestingly, what usually ends up as part of the conversation is an amazing documentary that can be found on Netflix called “Fed Up.” So this month’s blog is a sort of movie review sprinkled with opinion and fact and personal experience. But more than anything, I encourage you to watch the movie – it is fascinating, saddening, encouraging, and maddening, all wrapped up into one, 95 minute film. Sounds like a fun watch doesn’t it?
So in short, added sugar is the devil. There it is, I said it. Cased closed. One of my favorite quotes in the movie is “sugar is poison. It is a chronic, dose dependent hepato-toxin” (said by Dr. Robert Lustiq, professor of pediatrics at University of Califoria, San Francisco). Now we are talking about refined sugars, not natural sugars found in fruits. That powdery white stuff that’s added to pretty much everything you find in a box (or jar or can) at the grocery store. In fact so much more than I even imagined – 80% of what is in the grocery story has added sugar. EIGHTY PERCENT!
We have been bombarded with a message that calories in and calories out is all that we will have to do. Eat less, exercise more. But that just flat out isn’t true. All calories weren’t created equal. 200 calories of cake is not the same as 200 calories of apples. The movie goes into great detail into explaining how this works biochemically in the body, and in a way that makes total sense. Now this doesn’t take away the importance of exercise, but exercise is not the answer to the obesity epidemic. In fact the movie explains how fitness club memberships were pretty much taboo up until the 1950s and you can watch as the gym membership club boom happened almost at the same time as the obesity epidemic happened. Exercise is not the answer to this problem. So what else happened during that timeframe that could have been the cause of America’s great weight gain?
This is when things get maddening … we find out about the McGovern report. In 1977 the McGovern report came out which said that soon obesity would be the #1 cause of “malnutrition” in the country. They suggested a report be written that told Americans to change their diet and reduce their intake of fatty foods. When the meat and egg industry learned of this, they fought back – afraid of losing tons of money. They demanded the report be re-written to say to buy “leaner” products and products with less fat. Therefore, the food industry started making “low fat” products to sell. In the process of making things low fat, they learned that low fat food didn’t taste so great, so to fix this, food makers started adding more sugar to make food more palatable – half the fat, double the sugar happened. And obesity skyrocketed, more than anyone ever imagined.
So now onto some fascinating data that is brought up in the movie:
- cases of type 2 diabetes (formerly called “adult onset diabetes) in adolescents in 1980 – 0, cases in 2010 – 57,638
- Sugar is 8x more addictive than cocaine. When looking at brain scans, it lights up the same spots in the brain as cocaine
- in a study of 43 cocaine addicted rats, all of them were given a choice of cocaine or sugar water, 40 out of 43 of them choose the sugar water over the cocaine.
The documentary also follows a handful of obese children and teenagers. You see their struggles and triumphs. You see their families as well. I won’t go into too much detail but it’s safe to say that there were some tears shed watching their stories.
So what do we do with our families? I like to keep it simple. If it came from the earth/animal – then eat it. If it came from a box/or a food facility – then don’t. Read labels, learn what has added sugars (which you won’t have to worry about if you stick with the “eating from the earth” rule). My biggest lesson with my family was yogurt. I had been feeding my kids non greek yogurt until I learned it had 30 grams of sugar in it. Greek yogurt has 15 grams. To put this into perspective, the AHA’s daily allowance of added sugar is 24-36 grams a day. Yikes. My oldest (3 years old at the time) had a rough time with the change since he was clearly sugar addicted, but after some time, he found one that he liked (Chobani lime yogurt).
Speaking of that 24-36 grams of sugar a day, lets talk about some normal kids meals and snacks and how much sugar is typically in them:
- peanut butter and jelly on two pieces of bread – 18 grams of sugar
- can of Sprite® – 44 grams of sugar
- animal crackers – 10 grams of sugar
- sweetened applesauce – 36 grams of sugar
- One pouch of Annie’s® organic fruit snacks – 11 grams of sugar
- Honest Kids® Super fruit punch juice pouch – 10 grams of sugar
And a word on fruit juices … I hear this a lot at the office, “but it’s 100% fruit juice!” This is a trick that companies market to you to make you think it is healthy. But it’s not. Fruit juice, even if it’s 100%, is still just sugar and water. The sugar from fruit when it is eaten whole, is coupled with fiber and other nutrients from the fruit, which is fine. The sugar is slowly metabolized into your body. The fruit juice, which is just sugar and water, is pretty much the same as giving your child a candy bar – it produces a sugar spike, which turns right to fat. So fruit eaten whole, “from the earth” = great!! Fruit taken and messed with my man and put in a bottle and marketed to you to make you think it’s healthy? = think again.
So in closing, WATCH THE MOVIE. Consider it a learning experience and even a small change could make a big difference in your family’s life.