Sunday, June 26, 2011

Happiness and its Causes - Do you want sugar with that?

How does your diet affect your state of wellbeing? Are you really depressed and grouchy, or could it be the state of your digestion?

What role do the additives in our food have on our moods and wellbeing?

For millennia sugar was a rare luxury. Our hunter-gatherer forebears would have consumed it rarely, and mostly in the form of honey - when they could find and extract it from wild bee hives.

Our bodies and brains then said: “yummy, let's scoff as much as possible!” Our brains apparently turned off the ‘full’ receptors to allow us to keep scoffing, because we didn’t know when this lovely sweetness would be available again. It was a response that had been developed over millennia and was supremely appropriate for a scarce resource.

David Gillespie spoke forcefully at the ‘Happiness and its Causes’ conference about the research that supported his belief that the added sugars in our foods are having a massive affect on obesity with enormous health impacts. His web site is here.

He attests that is isn’t a lack of willpower that makes dieters feel helpless at their failure to lose weight and keep it off, but that the added sugars turn off the “full receptors” and make us want to eat more food in general. It's a vicious cycle that we are unlikely to win whilst we keep eating sugar which he calls 'sweet poison'.

A little bit of history:
According to some historians, throughout much of recent history (at least the 1600’s onwards) the Western diet consisted mainly of bread and large quantities of fruit and vegetables, which supplemented fish, and smaller amounts of meat. Processed foods were unknown. If you wanted something, you had to prepare it yourself, or buy it from a local supplier. Foods were mostly grown and consumed locally. Exotic ingredients like spices and sugar were transported from distant lands at great expense, and as such were considered a luxury and used sparingly.

Until relatively recently it was impossible to over-consume sugar. It wasn’t ever added holus-bolus to foods, and when it was added, it was with great ceremony and reverence. The stuff was simply too expensive to waste unnecessarily on unappreciative guests. It was a very impressive status symbol.

Sugar was purchased as a solidified lump in a form known as a cone. The hard cone of sugar needed to be further processed in the home before use. Chisels and mallets were used to break off smaller lumps, which were broken down further for kitchen use with strong tongs. In the dining room, even smaller nippers were used to break off pieces for addition to tea or the meal. A mortar and pestle was used to make powdered sugar. Quite a bit of energy was expended to get the cone of sugar into a useable form!

According to Bill Bryson in ‘At Home’ “in 1770 per capita consumption of sugar was running at about 20 pounds per head … Britons today eat 80 pounds of sugar per person annually, while Americans pack away a decidedly robust 126 pounds of sugar per head”.

Just to put this into perspective, 20 pounds is approx 9kg. That's about the comfortable weight of a sweet little lap dog. 80 pounds is approx 36kg, which is equivalent to a big dog such as a Labrador. 126 pounds is approx 56 kg. That’s as heavy as Bull Mastiff - that's a huge animal! A whopping increase for a substance that we are designed to have in meagre quantities.

Food for thought:
David Gillespie describes lethargy and sleeping problems being associated with a sugar rich diet. He believes that the over-consumption of sugar leads to insulin resistance, type two diabetes; that it promotes ageing, feeds cancers and is highly addictive.

David has eliminated all foods with added sugars from his diet including sweets, biscuits, juice and soft drink. If his family wants sweet things, they make them from scratch. This enables them to appreciate the item, they know what is in it, and it is eaten with a mindful attitude.

Prior to cutting out most sugars from his diet, David was 40kg overweight; he doesn't appear overweight now. He says he now knows when he feels hungry, and is able to stop eating when he is full. He trusts his body to let him know when to eat or not and is enjoying the experience of being in control of his food consumption.
David set a limit of 10 grams of sugar per meal, ie 2 teaspoons. 
Back to some history:
What it means is that in the space of a couple of hundred years, we’ve gone from sugar being a luxury and treated with great respect, to it being shovelled into a vast array of foods, beverages and condiments by businesses that have a vested interest in us consuming as much as possible, no matter what the consequences to us, the consumer. It is now so ubiquitous that we are unaware of it infiltrating foods at a greater and greater rate and at higher and higher concentrations than ever before in history. We don’t have to work to get it, and our bodies haven’t adapted or evolved to process it any differently than in the past.

If the foods you eat are processed and have an abundance of sugars as well as MSG you are facing an uphill challenge. Anecdotally, MSG is associated with an increased desire to eat the food in question – think potato chips, and even rice crackers. One of my friends talks about how MSG is added to make us want to continue eating. Some people believe it should be labelled as an addictive substance. How do you detect it? Have a look at the label: It’s number 621 and is usually called a ‘flavour enhancer’. Taste-wise, it’s when the food tastes unnaturally scrumptious and you just want to keep munching – but because it is a salt, it can leave you feeling thirsty – and what do you drink? Another item possibly packed with sugars and more MSG – addictive indeed!

So we have two apparently addictive items being increasingly added to many processed foods. In case you aren’t feeling a bit manipulated already, spend a moment thinking about the advertising industry. They target the psychology of eating, and carefully and deliberately select the words associated with encouraging you to eat more, and more, and more. “Don’t stop at just one!” “ You can’t say no”.

Is it any wonder many people struggle with their weight, their moods and general well-being? How does what you eat affect you?

This theme is continued in the next post here, where I talk about weaning yourself off the sugar habit.



Anonymous said...

And if you will note their advertising, you never see an overweight person chowing down on those burgers, chips, etc... No indication of what can happen if you overindulge.

Liza said...

I am trying these days to make as much as I can from scratch. I know I can do better, but think, even if I make my own salad dressing...I'm controlling what is being added...

sue said...

mbj, I'd love to make an ad and include all the innocent seeming foods and beverages - iced tea, low fat yogurt and other seemingly healthy options that are absolutely stuffed with sugars to make them attractive.

Liza, it's satisfying isn't it, and doesn't have to take a lot of time. I was just looking at one of those baby cans of luncheon tuna and even that has an extra 1/2 teaspoon of sugar added on top of what was already in the tomato paste - it's a flavoured one - I think I'll begin to look at the ones with brine instead...but then I'll probably start worrying about the salt!

Hart Johnson said...

You know... when I was in college, I used to cut sugar when I was concerned about my weight and it totally helped... I later though, switched to a fat obsession and didn't think about sugar, and it has been harder... I had attributed this to age...

Thank you for planting this... I am going to figure out where I can cut.

sue said...

Hart, I know our metabolisms change as we get older and like you I'd focused on fats. I haven't checked all the research about sugars, but given our sugar consumption has skyrocketed, I'd be very surprised if it wasn't a contributing factor.