Sugar—is it the enemy?

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.

Hence the conundrum.

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…

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In the quest for health…

I’ve been overweight for most of my life, but other than that, I’m pretty healthy.

Now I know I should drop a few—okay maybe 65—pounds, but I’ve had a hard time getting motivated to do so. At a recent check-up, my blood pressure was borderline high. I was instructed to come back in a few weeks to take my blood pressure again to see if it was still elevated.

On the way to my follow-up appointment, I found myself hoping that my doctor would order me to go on a strict diet to bring down my blood pressure. It sounds crazy, but I knew that might be the only way to light a fire under me.

A very pleasant technician took my blood pressure twice, and both times it was perfectly normal.  Didn’t she want to try a third time, I inquired. No, if I’d had two different readings, I’d need a third; but two identical readings in the safe range meant that I was done for the day.

I know I should have been relieved, but I felt cheated. When is somebody going to tell me I have to lose weight to be healthy? How much longer should I wait? And who will it be?

Damn. I guess it has to be me.

Sister cities a good match

Who said Dull people don’t have a sense of humor?

Recently a native of the unfortunately monikered town of Dull, Scotland traveled stateside and happened upon the city of Boring, Oregon, where she was struck by a moment of brilliance. When she returned home, she made all the arrangements for Dull and Boring to become perfectly paired sister cities.

They even have their own Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dull-Boring/348529295207568

This news comes by way of “News of the Weird,” which I read religiously in my daily newspaper.

Are bras the enemy?

I always meet interesting people at the Last Friday Ladies Lunch (LFLL) at Berkeley’s Hillside Club. Or sometimes I already know them in one capacity but learn a whole different side to them.

Lynn is a fellow writer, but I noticed that the name tag Sylvia had made for her read “bra expert.” I knew that Sylvia took certain creative liberties when making our name tags because mine read “humorist.” ( I think our name tags reflect Sylvia’s personal perspective on who we are to her.)

Anyhoo, I asked Lynn—whose resume probably lists something closer to “women’s health professional”—what her name tag was all about. And boy, did I learn a lot.

Apparently in cultures where women don’t wear bras, there are no incidents of breast cancer. In bra-wearing cultures, women get breast cancer all the time. I found this alarming. I realize that these two facts don’t necessarily mean that wearing bras actually gives one cancer. But it made me think.

Then my mind flashed to Grandma. As my sisters and I began developing, we lived with two fears that faced us every time Grandma reached out to hug us: that our breasts would one day sag to our waists and the skin beneath our arms would become large flaps that would sway in the breeze.

So my response to Lynne when she told me this was that I just wasn’t one of those women who could pull off the braless lifestyle, vaguely motioning to my hefty mounds and the southerly direction they were likely to go if left to their own devices.  But Lynn just discreetly looked downward to her own chest and told me she wasn’t wearing a bra. Of course if Lynne had been one of those Twiggy types whose shape didn’t change much from shoulders to hips, I could have dismissed her example as a veritable apples-and-oranges situation. (Or maybe oranges and raisins…)

But Lynn’s cup size (if she wore a bra) would be further along the alphabet than my C, and she looked nothing like Grandma—in fact, she was the picture of elegance.

I countered with the absolute necessity of wearing a sports bra when I work out, wincing slighty to illustrate the pain I would endure if I were ever to mount the elliptical at the gym in just a T-shirt. She asked how often I worked out and for how long. When I answered, she said that 45 minutes four times a week is a lot less time than wearing one all day every day. And then she explained how massages could restore circulation once the bra was off.

By wearing bras for 12 to 16 hours a day, we are sacrificing a good deal of healthy circulation. Consider what bras do, not only to your breasts but to your shoulders, back, and ribcage. It pushes some parts together and squeezes, pulls, and binds other parts to form a shape that has been deemed attractive by society.

So women end up treating their bodies like lumps of Play-dough. And to what end? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that bras were a conspiracy dreamed up by men who wanted to put our mammaries in cages. And that conspiracy is being perpetuated by all the women who believe that going braless would be wrong somehow, either because they would experience premature sag or look like hussies. I had bought into the whole thing, which is bad enough, but now it could be detrimental to my health? I had to make a stand.

So I took off my bra. (Not right there at the luncheon, but later, when I got home.) In order to address the issue of nipple irritation, I dug out my old cotton camisoles, which I figure will give me the protection I require in that area.

And I didn’t wear a bra for the next 24 hours.

But on Saturday I was scheduled to sing in a choral concert for an assisted living community. I pictured elderly residents taking note of my liberated chest and I couldn’t do it. I put on a bra. I bowed to the societal pressure that was inside my own head.

When I returned home, I was ashamed. What kind of feminist am I if I can’t sing in front of a bunch of old people without a bra on? And I replied to myself, “a feminist who doesn’t want people to think she’s trying to look sexy when actually going braless gives her more of a saggy Grandma vibe.” And then I realized I was talking about myself in the third person, which I hate.

So I decided to take it one day at a time. I didn’t wear a bra for the rest of the week. At first it felt weird, but the more I didn’t wear one, the more comfortable I became. Every once in a while I would be talking to someone and I’d think, I’m not wearing a bra, and I bet that person doesn’t even know that I’m not wearing a bra. And then the person would be looking at me, expecting an answer of some sort and I would realize that I had no idea what we had been talking about.

But I am confident that soon I will be able to carry on an entire conversation without even thinking about bras. And if I decide to wear a bra sometimes, that’s still better than all the time, right?

But I’ll be really pissed if I go through all this and get breast cancer anyway.