[In case you missed the news this week about sugar, this short video by the CBC sums it up nicely.]
This past week we saw all major news outlets publish articles that point directly to corruption in the nutrition community surrounding sugar.
The Globe & Mail: Sugar industry plays down role of sugar in heart disease, study finds
New Yorker: A Big Tobacco Moment for the Sugar Industry
The Guardian: Sugar lobby paid scientists to blur sugar’s role in heart disease – report
While avid nutrition geeks (like myself) have been reading about the so-called science that blamed fat and cholesterol for heart disease (in books like The Big Fat Surprise), the fact that the info has officially made it to mainstream media is a really big deal. It’s no longer just a conspiracy theory or fad-diet fallacy.
We really have been lied to by the nutrition community.
Whether you’re curious about nutrition or not, this recent turn of events affects all of us. Consider that the so-called scientific evidence that vilified saturated fat and cholesterol, and gave sugar a get-out-of-jail-free card, has literally shaped the entire world as we know it.
Food guides, agriculture, nutrition recommendations, pharmaceutical companies, the entire food industry itself, what your doctor tells you to eat – all of this may have been shaped by shoddy science that helped a bunch of corporate assholes get rich, at the expense of our health.
As someone who eats food, that leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.
But I thought science was about fact?
I fucking love science just as much as the next guy, and I’m simultaneously aware that, like religion, politics, capitalism, etc., science can be used to manipulate people for the gain of those in power.
While I will continue to look to science to help me understand the world, the sugar controversy should caution all of us about the dangers of believing, without question, a “fact” simply because science says so. This doesn’t mean that science is “bad” or “wrong” or “flawed.” All it means is that scientific findings still need to be questioned and considered by we as individuals and as a society at large, especially when rich assholes stand to getter richer by what those findings say.
It was an easy idea to sell – I’ll give ‘em that.
It was easy to sell us the idea that eating fat and cholesterol would cause us to gain fat and develop cholesterol-clogged arteries. This “science” follows logic, undeniably. The idea that sugar – a completely fat and cholesterol-free thing – can make us fat and lead to cholesterol-clogged arteries is more difficult to swallow.
But once you start reading more about how eating carbs (sugar is a carb) causes the release of insulin – a hormone that communicates to your fat cells that it’s time to store fat (among many other functions) – things also make sense, but in a different way. This article from Authority Nutrition on insulin, for example, makes a whole lotta sense to me.
So if both ideas make scientific sense, which one is the truer one?
I wish I had an answer for you, but the reality is nutrition science may always exist in the grey area. But you know what? The grey area can actually be a good thing because it means that you’re mind is open to any and all information the nutrition community comes out with – which is better for your health. Adhering to one idea, or one theory, or one approach can lead to tunnel vision, and that’s true about life as much as it is about nutrition.
Read more about why I think nutrition is a grey area, and why that’s a good thing.
Have we all been subject to one big sugar-coated fad diet experiment?
I’ve tried a bunch of different so-called fad diets in my time, though I’ve grown into a much more flexible approach now. I hesitate to describe myself as a flexitarian (because I wouldn’t want you, dear reader, to roll your eyes at me) – but flexitarian is probably what I am.
But is fad diet still a useful term, or does it place approaches to nutrition into black and white definitions? Consider that it’s entirely possible that the standard Western diet – also known as “normal” food – might itself be a fad diet. When we hear about gluten-free, vegan, Paleo, keto, Atkins, etc. and the “pseudo-science” these meals plans are built on, it no longer follows logically that we should roll our eyes and toss them to the side as passing fads.
Because that standard Western diet might also be built on pseudo-science.
Two things I’ll always stand by when it comes to nutrition.
Nutrition may always be a grey area, but there are two things I lean towards when making choices about what to eat, and they work together really well as a team:
Favour whole foods over processed or altered foods.
The closer food is to how mama nature made it, the more nutritious it is for you – or at least it’s a safer bet that it’s more nutritious for you. Choosing whole foods, as well, will naturally steer you away from processed crap. And owing in part to the sugar controversy’s pseudo-science, that processed crap you’re eating will more than likely have sugar added to it, as well as garbage ingredients like modified corn starch, modified fats, etc.
Everything in moderation.
The human body is an amazing machine capable of putting up with a lot. The foods we eat that do us damage do so because we eat them all the time, and we eat them over a very long period of time. Eating a piece of birthday cake isn’t going to hurt you – but eating a piece of birthday cake every day over the course of many years, well that’s a different story. Eat what you eat in moderation, and your body will take care of the rest.
Each of us will react differently to the news about the sugar conspiracy – which includes those of us who couldn’t care less (though I’d wager a guess if you’ve read this far it affected you in some way). Regardless of how you feel about it, I would encourage you to explore your relationship with food and nutrition. You don’t have to be a nutritionist, or a lifestyle guru, or a fitness freak. The only qualification you need to be interested in nutrition, and to speak about it, and have ideas about it, is being a human.
How do you feel about the sugar controversy? Tell me your thoughts.