healthnutshell: A Tablespoon of Sugar or a Cigarette?

A new way to view the worth of the happiness that sugar brings us.

I have never understood the addiction a person encounters who is dependant on alcohol or nicotine. Half-jokingly I have even said that I should take up smoking to prove that I have the will-power to stop. And while my body knows no enticement to the addictive qualities of alcohol or nicotine, I have been fighting a physical addiction my own life.

In high school, when I was “using” the most, I quickly became aware that I had symptoms of an unhealthy person. I had a lot of difficulty breathing, to the point it took hours to fall asleep at night. Not to mention my abundant allergies. So what was my addiction? Refined Sugar. (Sugar that is added to a food or processed in any way.)

Back in those days I ate a king size Little Debbie fudge round for breakfast every morning and another for an afternoon snack. And that was just the tip of the iceberg lettuce.

Evidently, men aren’t supposed to admit to loving sugary things. But I openly acknowledge my love and addiction. Chocolate. Ice cream. Cookies. Milk shakes. Peanut butter brittle. Candy. Sweet tea. Dr. Pepper.

Since childhood, I could never finish a meal without having some kind of sweets. My worst vice was Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I even overdosed on them one time back in 2003, eating 36 of them in a 16 hour period. From that day I developed a rash that lasted 6 years. Six years, not days.

In October 2008, I “hit rock candy bottom” after my hand eczema (dyshidrosis) got “out of hand”. Take a look at the pictures on this Wikipedia entry to see what I was suffering from:

I stopped eating shellfish and realized that it helped tremendously, because I learned by wearing my metal wedding ring that my hand eczema is triggered half by contact with heavy metals, which shellfish are full of. The other 50% is the consumption of refined sugar.

It has taken me since October 2008 to get to the point where I am now.  Which is basically a 0% tolerance policy on refined sugar. I couldn’t quit cold turkey. I needed my sugar too much.  Like any threatening drug, I was addicted.  Mentally and physically.

It’s been a long process. The only sugar I eat now comes from 100% fruit juice, fruit, and whole grain bread. Sweets are out of my life.

Aside from the hell that resided on both of my hands for most of last decade, something else helped inspired me to stop my sugar addiction. A realization. A new mindset:

Consuming a tablespoon of sugar is equal to smoking one cigarette.

That may seem like a broad claim since I am not a doctor nor has there ever been a clinical study to prove it. All we really have to go on is the following research I have done, along with the fact my hand eczema is currently 95% cured (thank God).

But consider this: It wasn’t until people began adding sugar into their diets that they began getting cavities. Toothbrushes and toothpaste came about because people starting eating sugar.

Even today, people from tribes in the world that do not have access to Coca-Cola and do not have a concept of adding sugar to their diet coincidently do not suffer from tooth decay. Nor do they suffer from the rate of cancers and diseases that the rest of us do.

I’m not the first to say it: There is a definite link between the health of a person’s teeth and how prone they are to developing health problems in the rest of their body:

No one needs to be told of all the horrific things smoking does to the human body. Just in case, here’s an overview:

However, most of us truly don’t realize that arguably, the presence of sugar in our diets causes all kinds of cancers and diseases as well.  Most notably, the consumption of refined sugar leads to diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay.  Plus:

This isn’t to say that consumption of refined sugar causes lung cancer and the same exact health problems that tobacco causes. But eating foods that are processed with refined sugar leads to just as many health problems.

I am confident that a person who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day (20 cigarettes), compared to a person who consumes 20 tablespoons of sugar a day, will be just as affected with an unhealthy body. Whether it’s for 5 years or 30 years.

The more sugar in a person’s daily diet now, the unhealthier they will be later in life. Like cigarettes, the damage isn’t instantly obvious. It can take decades before the person’s body begins to scream for help, like mine did.

To find out how much sugar is in a product, take a look at the nutrition facts. Look under “Total Carbohydrate”. Then scroll down to “sugars”. Divide that number by 12. That is how many tablespoons (not teaspoons) of sugar is in one serving of that product.

The average can of soda contains around 3 ½ to 4 tablespoons of sugar, or according to my analogy, has the same health dangers as smoking 3 ½ to 4 cigarettes.

Therefore, a person who drinks a 2 liter of soda (or the sugar equivalent of it through other sweets) a day will have the comparable health risks of a person who smokes one pack of cigarettes a day.

(For some great visuals, click here: )

But as we know, it doesn’t take smoking an entire pack of cigarettes day for a person’s health to be affected by it. So it’s important to check out those forgettable smaller amounts of sugars we consume as well.

Let’s a take a look at a classy favorite, Starbucks. Just a tall (the smallest size) Caramel Frappaccino has 53 grams of sugar, which is 4 ½ tablespoons of sugar, or 4 ½ cigarettes. A tall iced white mocha has 41 grams of sugar, which is 3 ½ tablespoons of sugar, or 3 ½ cigarettes.

A Snickers bar has 28 grams, or nearly 2 ½ tablespoons of sugar, or cigarettes.

Ten years ago, the Atkins diet surged with popularity, and suddenly everyone was avoiding carbs. But we need carbs. It’s the sugar in them that’s bad.

Whole grain bread is an important part of our diet, since it contains a good amount of fiber that we need to our food to push through our intestines. But even whole grain, whole wheat fiber has some sugar in it. It’s a matter of finding bread with the most fiber and the least sugar. And dividing that sugar content by 12 to find out how many tablespoons of sugar it contains in a serving.

From all my research, it’s difficult to find a nutritionist who will give a solid number for the amount added sugar we are allowed in a day. Because many that I talked to said ideally, none. But for the ones would give me an answer: 37.5 grams of added sugar per day. About 3 tablespoons.

In other words, a king size Snickers bar or a Starbucks tall iced white mocha will meet this limit 100%. (Though a can of soda would be over the limit.) So we have a fun snack like that and think we’re okay. But, what about the rest of the added sugar we are going to eat that day too?

Like bread? Fruit juice? Whole grain cereal? Yogurt? Milk?

By simply eating the healthy foods we should be eating already, we are naturally going to get close to that those 37.5 grams (or 3 tablespoons) of sugar. So it leaves out room for any sugary snacks.

Because even if we eat completely healthy balanced meals, once we add a bag of M&M’s, we exceeding our daily allowance. And keeping in my unproven theory that a tablespoon of sugar is equal to a cigarette, just one sugary snack on top of an already healthy diet would be like smoking a few cigarettes.

But the truth is this: Most people don’t already eat healthy, balanced meals. So that’s even more “cigarettes” in a day.

The good new is, we don’t have to count all sugars against our 37.5 gram allowance:  Like whole foods such as bananas or blueberries. Or really any food that has not all been processed and has had some kind of sugar added to it.

Because even healthy bread and yogurt have added sugar, even if its organic evaporated cane juice. For example, I just finished a serving of Stonyfield strawberry yogurt which contained 34 grams of sugar. They added organic sugar and strawberry juice to sweeten the yogurt. That’s my full allowance of added sugar, and that was an attempt to be healthy. Not to mention the grape juice I drank earlier today. Lesson learned. Next time I’ll go with cottage cheese and strawberries I slice myself.

And even 100% fruit juice is processed- juice is only a part of the whole fruit. So it must count against the 37.5 gram allowance.

But somehow if the fruit is eaten whole, with the fruit flesh, it counteracts the negative elements of the sugar it contains.

And of course, there’s no cheating the system. Artificial sweeteners are not a safe alternative, with links to potential cancer risks, negative effects on the liver, kidneys, and other organs, gastrointestinal problems, developmental problems in children and fetuses and headaches, to name a few:

I think the most motivating element for me in all this is not so much a fear of getting cancer, but more about getting diabetes. Multiple sources continue to report that 1 out of 3 American children will become diabetics as adults if their current lifestyle continues:

I have lived the first 28 years of my life in favor of becoming a diabetic. After seeing a few photographs of people who had to have their legs removed because of the disease, I decided that I don’t mind getting old, but I do mind getting old and unhealthy and account of my carefree lifestyle in my young adulthood.

So which is worse? A tablespoon of sugar or a cigarette?

At best, they’re the same. They both have enough potential to give us cancer and diseases. I’m not willing to risk my life for either one. I want to be the next Juice Man. Out of control eybrows and all.

Related posts by the same author:

Barley into Beer

1.2 Billion People Can’t Be Wrong

 Beauty and Self-Worth aren’t the Real Issues

healthnutshell: Being Healthy Vs. Being Attractive

Beauty and self-worth aren’t the real issues. Lack of will power is.

As a kid I couldn’t understand why people have to experience physical pain. It seemed cruel that we were designed that way. Until it was explained to me like this: Pain is the body’s way of warning a person that something is wrong. Otherwise, a person could bite their own tongue off or continue walking on a broken foot, unaware they are even hurt.

In a less obvious sense, the human body was designed to give different warning signs other than just pain. As I teenager, I had the typical expected diet: Anything I wanted. Soda, snack cakes, pizza, burgers and fries, ice cream, there were no limits. Being overweight was not an issue for me, knowing that no matter what I ate I would still be noticeably skinny. I actually dreamed of a day when I could just have a normal body and not have to hear people say, “Man, you’re skinny.” By the time I was 20, that day came.

I realized that what I ate began to have an effect my stomach, which was no longer perfectly flat. Though I’ve always been in or under the right weight range for my age and height, the fact that my body finally started showing a poor diet spoke something clearly to me: Being overweight is a warning sign from the body. A warning for early onset diabetes, heart attack, cancer… the list goes on.

As we age, the body progressively displays its inability to naturally burn off fat like it did when we were younger. It’s not about looking good, it’s about being healthy. There is something that bothers me about the fact it is becoming taboo to talk about the need for people to be at a healthy body weight, as it is potentially easily offensive in our society- we are now living in a country where the majority is overweight. The rules of our culture teach us to see beauty in all sizes, to counter the rising number of unhealthy people.

Missing the point. Beauty is not at stake here. The quality and length of life are.

Noticeably this year, our country has lost several well known 50 year-old men, all for different health reasons. And not that it was their fault. But the truth is, to live as a modern day American, the only way to be healthy is to be weird. What our country calls a “health nut” is actually a person who is simply being healthy, not overly strict about their food and exercise. “Health nut” shouldn’t be a derogatory term. It should be the norm. But our culture ensures it stays that way. It sells more diet pills and programs because of it.

It’s not okay to drink soda. It’s not okay to eat fried food. It’s not okay to eat white bread instead of whole wheat. It’s not okay to eat to snacks that come in a big bag. I have to remind myself of those rules every day, living in the middle of a cleverly named Fast Food Nation.

It’s normal, but it’s not okay.

And though my teachings on pork and shellfish fascinate people, they ultimately fade into the categories of impracticality and irrelevance. It’s still not okay to eat pork and shellfish. I’m with the Jews, Muslims, and Rastafarians on their literal belief that when God told people not to eat pork and shellfish through Moses in the Old Testament, he meant it. And while Jesus changed so many laws when he came to earth, he did not change the science of how these animals function in the ecosystem. They were designed to clean up the earth by eating other dead animals, feces, and waste matter as their bodies have a high poison intake. And Peter’s dream of the animals coming down from the sky on a blanket in Acts was God’s way of getting Peter’s attention to convince him to preach to the non-Jews for the first time, not to literally start eating the unclean animals.

We are not supposed to eat the clean-up crew. Shrimp and shellfish may be low fat foods, but they’re extremely high in the bad kind of cholesterol. That means they’re full of low doses of poisons and heavy metals which weren’t designed for human consumption. Yesterday on the MSN home page there was an article listing the top 5 foods containing parasites. Unsurprisingly, pork was #1:

My diet definitely has shown some offense and confusion in my office. We have had BBQ Pork Day, Pizza Day, and Hot Dog Day. The idea is that everyone in the office pitches in $6, then shares in the community meal. It’s not fun trying to explain why I won’t participate unless there is an alternative to pork available for me. I earned the title of “Picky Eater”, but ultimately know that I stood firm on my belief at the cost of looking like a whiny weirdo.

There are annoying “health nuts” out there. They go around judging the cuisine choices of others around them. That’s not my job. It’s a personal decision that people must decide for themselves. But it is my job to relay the message in a non-obnoxious, informative way, and then let the listener to decide from there.

America lives a double-standard: We put way too much emphasis on being thin and muscular and equating beauty with those things, yet our lifestyles and budgets are built for consuming unhealthy foods. So much focus on weight loss, such easy access of fast food to help keep America unhealthy. While on one extreme there are bulimia and anorexia which are credited to being mental diseases, on the other side there is the lack of willpower that allows people to feed themselves too much of the wrong things, consistently. Food is psychologically addictive.

I wonder which is easier: To quit smoking, or to convert from a fast food diet to one that is consistent in vegetables, lean meats, and fiber plus regular exercise. It seems when people stop smoking, it’s more permanent since a person has to make a conscience effort to go buy cigarettes. But the temptation of unhealthy food and not making an effort to exercise is all around. In other words, it’s not a black and white issue like smoking.

The intriguing documentary Super Size Me mentions the fact that in our society it is near acceptable to confront a smoker about the damage they are doing to their own body, while it extremely offensive to say the same about a person’s poor diet and exercise habits. What’s the difference? The quick answer is that cigarette smoking produces harmful second-hand smoke.

However, a person’s eating habits are learned by those around them. Food and family tradition go hand in hand. The danger to others resulting from a person’s poor diet and exercise? Second hand poor dietary habits. It’s not as obvious and instant as second hand smoke, but it’s just as dangerous in the long run.

On Sunday night’s episode of Shark Tank, the only 2 products the millionaires invested in out of all that were shown to them were both health enhancing products. The investors repeatedly explained that products that fall into the category of Health and Diet are a given success. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year on diet programs and physical fitness. The products work, but we don’t.

I could save thousands of people from wasting millions of dollars every year by saying, “Don’t do a diet program. It’s a temporary fix. Don’t try a pill. It’s an illusion. There is no quick fix or substitute for the right sized portions of healthy food, and exercising almost every day.” It’s that simple and it’s that hard. No exceptions.

The 2nd leading preventable cause of death in America is inactivity and lack of exercise. (Tobacco use is #1.) It can be a struggle to make time for daily exercise and it makes it worse that most of us sit in a chair all day to make a living. Despite the millions of dollars spent on gym memberships and diet programs, the sad simple truth is that these memberships often go unused and that diet programs are only as effective as the person. There is no substitute for an actual healthy lifestyle.

Beauty and self-worth are associated with being fit in our culture. That’s why diet pills and programs continue to make millions. No one can put a price tag on will power, nor could it ever be bought. It’s all in the mind.

Leading causes of death in America

Super Size Me clip