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US citizens need to cut back on sugary sweets

Reed Schneider, Opinion Writer
November 14, 2012
Filed under Opinion, Top Stories

Halloween is done and over with, and trick-or-treaters across the U.S. have long since finished the small mountains of candy they collected. Some people, like University of Californi-San Francisco Dr. Robert Lustig, though, still have sweets on the mind. More specifically, Lustig’s focused on the stuff inside candy called fructose, more commonly known as sugar. It’s something he calls a poison overwhelming the average American.

“We love it. We go out of our way to find it,” Lustig said. “I think one of the reasons is because there is no food on the planet with fructose that’s poisonous to you. So when you taste something that’s sweet, it’s an evolutionary Darwinian signal of a safe food.”

On a subconscious level, according to Lustig, this is what people think about when choosing to eat sugar in its various forms. It almost appears to be an excuse for the average person to eat more of what Lustig said is a toxic substance.

In general, people aren’t stupid. They know that when they eat  something sugary, it probably isn’t the best item on the menu.

The question worth asking is should people become detectives of every nutrition label? Should companies become more honest in how much sweetener they put in their products or should the general populace just moderate what it eats?

According to the National Retail Federation, the average consumer spends an estimated $79.82 on candy, decorations and costumes, reaching a total of more than $8 billion spent for Halloween every year. According to the Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune and the News Tribune, estimated spending on candy for Halloween 2011 and 2012 was each more than $2 billion.

Even with the sweets and treats galore, restraint is needed because of the effects sugar overdosing can cause.

According to Lustig and CBS News, those sweeteners are helping fuel an increase in the most deadly disease in America — heart disease.

Kimber Stanhope, a nutritional biologist at the University of California, recently concluded a five-year study showing strong evidence linking excess high fructose corn syrup — sugar’s evil twin — to increased risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

The study suggested calories from added sugars are different or worse than calories from other foods.These studies and statistics prove that sugar is toxic to the body in large quantities.

Yet, they do not point anything directly at the substance alone. It has to be in large quantities to be harmful to people.

It seems obvious at this point to explain sugar, then, is not evil or toxic at all. We just need to eat less of it.

Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, reiterated the point in an interview with CNN.

“We actually need sugar, it’s our body’s preferred fuel,” Katz said. “But we eat too damn much of it.”

Dr. Miriam Vos, assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine, agreed with Katz.

“Sugar is an important part of our lives, but a little goes a long way,” Vos said.

Tyler Emery, UW-Green Bay chemistry major, shared his insight alongside the doctors’ statements.

“In my opinion, sugar as a main staple in anyone’s diet is unhealthy,” Emery said, “but on the other hand, it’s a necessary evil because the body’s main way to produce energy requires sugar.”

Something must be said for Halloween candy-gorging being just one day of the year, but it’s overshadowed by the amount of sugar and other added sweeteners companies put in their products.

Anyone can look at a can of soda and find high fructose corn syrup listed under the ingredients. That’s essentially the companies’ new way of stating it’s bad for the body.

Lustig agrees  the public needs to create a more balanced diet and reduce sugar consumption by relating it to other products.

“Ultimately this is a public health crisis,” Lustig said. “And when it’s a public health crisis, you have to do big things and you have to do them across the board.  Tobacco and alcohol are perfect examples. We have made a conscious choice that we’re not going to get rid of them, but we are going to limit their consumption. I think sugar belongs in this exact same wastebasket.”

While not as drastic as Lustig, Emery agreed.

“It’s easy to not realize your own sugar intake, and that can definitely lead to health issues,” Emery said. “But anyone with a slight consciousness of their own health shouldn’t have a problem successfully managing the negatives that come along with sugar.”

We get that sugar is bad in too large of a quantity. This doesn’t make it toxic or evil. We simply need to learn how to carefully moderate the consumption of it.