On April 1, CBS's "60 Minutes" aired a segment Is Sugar Toxic? It was no April Fools' Day joke.
If you happened to tune in, you heard Dr. Robert H. Lustig, a pediatric physician and endocrinologist, say without qualification that the path that leads to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease is coated with sugar and lots of it. He called out fructose as one of the main sugar offenders.
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Let's take a quick look at table sugar to understand what Lustig's talking about. Granulated sugar, also known as sucrose, is a fifty-fifty combination of fructose and glucose (aka dextrose). High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) delivers a slightly different ratio of 55-percent fructose to 45-percent glucose; making sugar and HFCS almost identical and as Lustig puts it: "equally toxic."
About fructose, Lustig says: "We love it. We go out of our way to find it." Why?
"There is no foodstuff on the planet that has fructose that is poisonous to you. It is all good." As humans, we're hard-wired to believe, without thinking, that if it tastes sweet, it's safe to eat. That means safe to eat in small quantities, time-to-time, from natural sources like a fresh peach or an apple.
As a nation, we now consume an average of 130 pounds of sugars a year. Over the years, our granulated sugar consumption has gone down, but before you start cheering, over that same time our consumption of high fructose corn syrup shot through the roof.
Lustig co-authored an American Heart Association report recommending that men should consume no more than 150 sugar calories (9 teaspoons) a day from added sugars and women should consume no more than 100 calories (6 teaspoons or one can of sugar-sweetened soda) a day. Today, on average, Americans ingest 653 calories -- more than 13 tablespoons -- from added sugars each day.
For the most part, our sugar consumption doesn't come from what we add at home, such as when we make scratch pancakes. The majority of the sugar we consume comes from processed foods that we might not even consider sweet, like hamburger buns (6.3 grams sugar) or ketchup (3.4 grams).
What can you do to lower than number.
First, nix soda. The majority of sugar consumed by Americans is delivered in soft drinks, what some call "liquid candy." Switching to unsweetened, flavored carbonated water can make a huge difference in sugar consumption and benefit your waistline.
Next, replace processed foods with fresh, whole foods. Instead of grabbing a fruit pie from the vending machine, grab an apple. For me, that's not deprivation dining, since rarely, if ever have I tasted a processed food product that was the equal of or better than a natural, unprocessed one.
Finally, if you can't steer completely clear of processed foods; ramp-up your label reading and focus on sugars on the Food Fact label. When you do you'll find one cup of bottled spaghetti sauce can bring almost 3 tablespoons sugar to your pasta. And, that morning bran muffin you've been so pleased with can deliver 4 to 8 teaspoons of sugar along with its healthy dose of fiber.
Lusitg also recommended staying away from artificial sweeteners, since he believes that our bodies still crave the real thing after being fooled by the artificial stuff.
Try this recipe: I love spinach. Bagged fresh baby spinach makes it easy. Check your local farmers market right now, you may find fresh spinach there, too. At one time, I made this with bacon, but found that sliced nitrite/nitrate-free baked lean ham works nearly as well.
Yes, there's 2 grams of sugar hidden in the balsamic vinegar.
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at email@example.com.