SUGAR! Delicious and Deadly

More than 30 years ago I noticed that eating sugared foods made me extremely tired in the mornings. A little sugar in the water to boil carrots gave me “sugar eyes” – that’s what I called the sense of glue in the morning as I tried to open my eyes. A cup of coffee and a donut would literally keep me from getting out of bed – I was habitually late for work. I did not realize it was the sugar until I stopped putting sugar in my coffee and replaced donuts with hot unsweetened cereal. After three days of this new regime, I got up early and I had clear eyes – no sugar eyes! I was alert and awake! What a discovery!

Feeling well is a great incentive. After that experience I pretty much cut out refined sugar from my diet. Every so often I’d stray, but the fatigue and the “sugar eyes” kept reminding me. What I also noticed is that my moods changed dramatically once I quit eating sugar. From my usual slight malaise, a vague sensation of sadness or minor depression, I went to feeling normal and OK pretty much most of the time. What surprised me was that such experiences were dismissed by the mainstream nutritionists, and other parents were horrified when I mentioned that I gave my children no sugared cookies, ice cream, or candy – ever. (If they got it themselves, that was not my problem; they just didn’t get it in the house from me.) That was because I had found, early on, as do many parents, that the kids often go crazy when they get sugar.

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New Concepts: The Zone and the Blood Type

Books on how to eat are a dime a dozen. Many of them contradict each other: raw food or cooked? Vegetarian or high protein? Food combining or everything in balance? Consumers try to navigate without a compass among all these systems, and often, in despair and confusion, give up trying to eat healthfully. As readers of this column know, my viewpoint is that our main dietary choices should be always whole, fresh, natural, real, and organically grown foods whenever possible. That said, there are many possible permutations of such a diet, and I have experimented with many: lacto-ovo vegetarian (7 years), vegan (1 ½ years), macrobiotic (15 years), food combining (2 weeks), and the Atkins diet (1 month). Each time I learned something interesting. It’s been a long time since I think of myself as being “on a diet,” but rather of eating mostly “health-supportive whole foods.”

In the past two years I have run into three new books about diet, and each of them has taught me one or more useful concepts. That is more than I found in the ten years prior! You have probably heard about these books as well. Let’s look at all three, and what I found useful about them.

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Aspartame: The Real Story

Sugar is bad for you, right? It has calories and makes you fat. Therefore, anything that tastes sweet and doesn’t have calories is preferable, because it won’t make you fat. Right? That is the thinking that supports the widespread use of artificial sweeteners. Millions of people guzzle soft drinks sweetened with aspartame, the compound sold under the trade names Nutrasweet and Equal. This ingredient is found in all kinds of diet foods, in toothpaste, and sprinkled out of small packets into coffee and tea. It is sold worldwide. It is also associated with thousands of reports of adverse effects. Most of the information that follows was taken from the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network Fact Sheet, written by Lendon Smith, MD, former Network Physician at NBC-TV and well-known author and pediatrician.

Aspartame (the technical name is L-aspartyl-L-phenylalanyl-methyl-ester) is considered to be about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is virtually calorie free. When ingested and metabolized, it breaks down into three substances:

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