Drop that soda can (3/14/11)
What Sugar Does For You
Sure you love sugar. Who doesn’t? It’s like asking why we enjoy food.
Our need for sugar is for much more than taste, of course. Sugar, in the form of glucose, is our main body fuel. It’s the only energy form our brain and red blood cells can live on – unless we’re starved for a week. Oil may run our cars, but sugar is the main energy source of our lives.
For some, sugar is also the taste of paradise. One German linguist has argued that Islamic martyrs to the faith are by scripture not rewarded by the future company of 72 magical virgins (houris), but instead will gain 72 extremely sweet, rare white raisins.
Even before we consider the possibility of paradise, we speak of the sweetness of life
But what is sugar doing for us? Are some of us eating so much sugar that we’re hurting ourselves?
Sugar, Obesity, Diabetes
Sadly there are problems with eating lots of sugar – especially from a soda can. They include:
1. The more sugared soda you drink the bigger you tend to become.
2. The bigger you are, the greater the risk of obesity.
3. More obesity means more diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, and certain tumors.
4. It’s estimated that 1/3 Americans will eventually become diabetic.
5. Diabetes alone knocks off six or seven years of life, and marks life with a plenitude of chronic illnesses varying from cataracts and blindness to amputations to Alzheimer’s disease.
6.Sugar may directly be pro-inflammatory – at least in terms of increasing inflammatory cytokines in cells – and inflammation is not good for you.
7. For many sugar acts as an appetite stimulant. That’s a real problem when America ranks #1 in the world in overweight (our Body Mass Index, 28, is the highest in he world.)
Now there’s more bad news.
Sugar, Soda, and High Blood Pressure
A recent study of Americans and Britons aged 40-59 was just published in the journal Hypertension. The result that received most attention – the more sugared soda you drink, the higher your blood pressure.
And that’s statistically controlling for weight. Drinking soda appears by itself to be a risk factor for hyptension.
Participants were asked to list what they ate the past 24 hours at 4 separate occasions, then got their blood pressure taken along with urine samples.
Those who drank more than one soda a day ingested about 400 calories more than those who did not imbibe sugary drinks.
For every extra can of sugared soda, systolic blood pressure went up 1.6 mm; diastolic .8 mm.
Sounds like a small change? Not when you consider the number of strokes that will produce; the added heart attacks; the increasing burden of Alzheimer’s disease.
Through more than one mechanism, sugar is shortening our lives.
Sugar, the Economy, and National Security
One reason we eat so much sugar (estimates are the average US citizen takes in an extra 135 pounds of added sugar a year, much of it in the form of soft drinks) is because sugar is so cheap.
Why is it sugar inexpensive? Your taxpayer dollars. That’s right, you are allowing your government representatives to subsidize the obesity, diabetes, and hypertension epidemic with its ability to blow out our future health care bills.
Agricultural subsidies are $30 billion a year. They make sugary soda cheap – often cheaper than drinking bottled water.
Most of the money goes to large agribusinesses, not the increasingly marginalized “small farmer.” A full $5 billion, according to Mark Bittman in the NY Times, goes to people who don’t plant food at all – in a world where food prices are rising and causing global political unrest.
Most of the fight about “entitlements” is about the cost of Medicare. An obese, diabetic, hypertensive population suffers greatly in this life, but they are also very expensive to treat. Subsidized sugar, generally in the form of high fructose corn syrup, helps make that happen.
There are also issues of economic competitiveness and national security. A sicker population costs a lot more in health bills and does not work as productively. Remember – a healthy economy requires a healthy population.
Estimates are that adding one can of sugared soda to your daily regimen can increase individual weight 15 pounds. Just hauling that extra weight around adds several billion dollars in increased energy costs.
And much of that energy comes from the Middle East. Energy costs are rising fast – and we are already paying many billions for our military to help keep the straits of Hormuz open.
That soda can is awfully expensive.
Dump the Soda, Drink the Water
Sugar tastes good. Sugar can provide a sugar “high.” But this national sugar high is also bringing us low – with more obesity and higher medical, fuel and energy costs.
What can you do?
Forget the soda can and drink water.
Water is not what it used to be. Hydrofracking and other oil and gas drilling procedures are dumping radioactive contaminants, salts, and toxic drilling swill into our aquifers and drinking supplies. Many other pollutants are there already, including hundreds of drugs.
Yet the water quality problem is fixable. It does require regulation and enforcement – if water treatment plants only need look at their radioactive content every 6-9 years, as they do now in many states, they certainly won’t find problems.
And there are plenty of people – many of them large polluters – who want to make sure they won’t find anything.
Water is cheap. Water can be clean and healthy. Nearly three quarters of you is water.
Americans spend many billions on bottled waters, but in numerous studies, tap water is generally just as healthy.
It can be improved. And water purifying filters do cost, but can be easily added to your kitchen faucet.
Yes, everybody’s tap water should be clean and pure. The cost of doing that, in dollars, is rather low.
The benefits to your health of drinking water over soda – and your waistline and pocketbook – are far greater.
Think a bit before you buy that next soda can.
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