I’ve been watching Sugar: The Bitter Truth. And by “been watching,” I mean I’ve watched two half-hour chunks on different days, and I still have 30 minutes to go. I guess it’s hard to sit still for an hour and a half to watch a guy lecture about the evils of sugar, especially without a candy bar on hand.
It’s all part of this new quest I’m on to improve my health. Except I feel fine, so I need outside sources to motivate me. Enter Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics, whose mission is to expose the damage caused by sugary foods. And he has an impressive scientific PowerPoint presentation to prove it.
Okay, in my rational brain I already know that sugary snacks should generally be avoided. I also know deep in my heart that a perfectly moist, chewy brownie is absolutely the best thing on Earth.
Dr. Lustig produces a plethora of evidence against all things sweetened, but he spends a lot of time explaining what he calls “the Coca-cola conspiracy.”
Exhibit 1: the size of the Coca-cola bottle has gradually gotten larger. Back in 1915 a Coke bottle held 6.5 ounces. In 1955, it grew to 10 ounces. When the can was introduced, it was 12 ounces. Then we got a plastic bottle that’s 20 ounces. (Which wouldn’t be significant except that of course that means that the contents inside those growing bottles is increasing as well, yet those contents are still considered one serving.) And Texas has its own version of the Big Gulp—60 ounces. That plus a Snickers bar and a bag of Doritos cost 99 cents. So not only is it widely available, it’s downright cheap to get fat. And it gets even more insidious: a Coke has 55 grams of salt, which makes you thirstier, which means you buy more soda. And of course they have to cover the taste of all that salt with—you guessed it—high fructose corn syrup!
One reason we can trace the beginning of the obesity epidemic back to 1972 has to do with Richard Nixon, who was worried that the fluctuating food prices might cost him getting re-elected. So he got his secretary of agriculture, Rusty Butz (I did not make that up), to figure out ways to bring down prices. Guess what? High fructose corn syrup is sweeter than sugar and a lot cheaper. So why not put it in everything? And if you doubt that, take a stroll down any aisle in the grocery store and start reading the ingredients.
Before 1975 Americans didn’t even know what high fructose corn syrup was, but now our average consumption of it is 63 pounds per year. (A guy in Japan invented it, and Lustig jokes how it was revenge for losing WWII.)
We know that this corn syrup stuff is evil, so can’t we just go back to good old sucrose, which is plain white sugar? Apparently not. Dr. Lustig makes a point of saying that they are equally bad, that in fact they are both “poison.” So switching to those Mexican Cokes to get back to pure cane sugar is just trading in one toxin for another.
Damn. This is going to be harder than I thought…