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How Bad is Sugar For You? As Bad As Marrying Your Sister, Says Science [Plus: My new favorite tip for busting sugar cravings]

Posted Aug 20 2013 1:27am


“Note to Mothers: Play safe with your young ones – make sure they get sugar every day.” Egads… P.S. I want to watusi too!!

The next time you’re tempted to mindlessly eat handfuls of chocolate chips or order the extra large soda with dinner or drink syrup straight from the bottle (which… I can’t really judge you for because real maple syrup is delightful), instead science wants you to think about making baby-nuggets with your cousin. Because nothing will pull you out of a junk food binge like imagining sexy times with the kid with whom you not only share grandpa’s nose but also shared the Summer of Boogers.

In what has got to be the best quote by a researcher ever,  Dr. Wayne Potts, a biology professor and senior author of a new study about the effects of the “recommended amount” of sugar on mice, opined, “Would you rather be on the American diet … or have parents be full cousins?” In case you aren’t already totally squicked out, he added, ”This data is telling us it’s a toss up.”

Even though Dear Prudence says it’s probably okay to play genetic roulette and allow two cousins (Who don’t know they’re cousins! Because of an illicit affair! Do advice columns get any better than this?) to marry, it’s generally considered bad form to double down on genetics from the same family. There’s a higher incidence of birth defects. Children have slighter shorter lifespans. Males are less virile. More females die. And rodent reunions get super awkward because little mice brains totally do not have the capacity to figure out what exactly is a “second cousin once removed but reattached by marriage”.

While previous studies have found sugar has a toxic effect, they generally used amounts much higher than most people actually eat, said the study’s first author, Dr. James Ruff. ”I think the big takeaway is the level of sugar we readily eat and think is safe causes major health declines in mice,” said Ruff. “We’re not just talking about some minor metabolic thing. We’re taking about increased rates of death and [lower rates] of reproduction.”

Yep. Birthing and deathing. When it comes to living, those are the two thing you definitely don’t want to screw up.

The researchers gave the mice the equivalent of 500 calories worth of sugar, based on a 2,000 calorie human diet. To put that in perspective, that’s about 120 g of sugar or the amount in one medium Candy Shop Blizzard. After ingesting their daily sugar bomb for six months, the mice had all kinds of systemic problems ranging from fertility issues to early death to not wanting to get up off their furry butts and put down the Xbox controller to defend their territory.

But there was a finding the researchers didn’t anticipate: the sugared-up mice weren’t any fatter than the control group. Since they were all fed the same amount of calories (and all were the same breed thereby having the same general metabolic profiles), they ended up at the same weight. The researchers noted that if you were just looking at the mice, both groups would have “passed their physicals.” But the real differences appeared when the mice were put into “mouse barns” (which I now want one for Christmas, please note) to live their daily lives of eating, pooping, reproducing and fighting over plastic shavings. Which goes to show, again, that weight is not the best indicator of health. (And also explains your old college roommate who ate nothing but Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and stayed a size 0.)

The researchers stopped short of advising people against sugar (or incest) but their findings only lend more credence to the growing pile of evidence that processed sweets kind of are the nutritional devil. Which stinks because a) it’s delicious, b) it’s been shown to be as addictive as cocaine , and c) it’s delicious.

Am I telling you to never eat added sugar again? (We’re not talking about fruit here.) Er no, says the girl who had brownies and ice cream for dessert today. Although I will one-up Prudie and tell you that you probably shouldn’t marry your secret cousin if only for the fact that it’s a rule of nature that you should never bear children with someone you once helped bury a pair of poo-stained underwear. Seriously though, I have nothing but admiration for people who can avoid added sweeteners totally. I once white-knuckled my way through 90 days of total abstinence. You know how they say it gets easier? It never did for me. Every day was a fight and eventually I just threw my hands up and decided to focus my energies on other fights – like the ones between Son #2 and Son #3 that resulted in biting, punching and caterwauling as recently as this afternoon. (Sigh.)

Intuitive Eating has helped a lot with the sugar wars – I’m totally the type to binge if I think I’m never going to get treats again – but it isn’t perfect. I think it’s the addictive nature of sugar (combined with my addictive personality). IE tells you to eat what your body needs (not necessarily wants) but if your brain needs more serotonin and sugar will boost that for you then your body (i.e. MY body) apparently thinks it’s a mortal need, despite any other negative effects – like the resultant crash.

So I recently discovered something interesting that helps me with sugar cravings. I gotta admit I’m super hesitant to blog about this because I don’t want you to think I’m pushing pills on you. So take this next bit with the huge caveat that I’m NOT a doctor, I’m not qualified to give you health advice and I’m really not all that smart sometimes. Anyhow, during an interview with an Ivy League biochemist a couple of months ago for an article for Shape we got talking about supplements, his area of expertise. (And you know how I love me some supplements…) He said most of them were garbage but there were a few he had found to be genuinely effective. And one of those was Garcinia Cambogia. You may have heard of it on Dr. Oz. And while I’ve seen it pop up on a few health sites/research articles it hasn’t become super mainstream yet. It’s an extract derived from a squash and while the claims for it are pretty broad (different sources say that it suppresses appetite, promotes fullness, blocks the storage of carbs as fat, boosts mood/serotonin, improves sleep, mitigates PMS, teaches you to dance like a leprechaun etc) what I’ve found after taking it for a couple of months is that it really helps me manage those MUSTEATJELLYBEANSNOOOOWWWW moments I get around 4 p.m. every day.

I can’t recommend a brand but if you’re curious this is the one I’m currently using . (Link is NOT affiliate) I did not receive any samples for free, I’m not being paid and I have no ties to this or any other GC manufacturer. It was something I decided to try on a whim because of the high praise of this particular doctor and honestly I like it. It’s not major – clearly I haven’t lost any weight using it, as evidenced by my recent blarghhhh-I-gained-weight post – but I do notice a difference in food cravings when I use it as directed. (Which can be a pain since you’re supposed to take it on an empty stomach 30-60 minutes before a meal. So I forget fairly often.) It hasn’t suppressed my appetite at all but it has almost completely eliminated my omnipresent candy cravings which is nice because then I don’t ride the sugar-hell ‘coaster all day. Maybe it’s the placebo effect. Maybe it only works because it’s forcing me to be more mindful about when I eat. Anyhow, take this for what you will. There are no stimulants in it (no caffeine of any type) and the most common side effect is pooping more often – which I personally have not experienced.

What’s your sugar philosophy: Everything in moderation or abstinence? What’s your best tip for avoiding added sugars? Anyone else tried Garcinia? P.S. If you know something terrible about it please let me know, stat!!

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