Monday, March 25, 2013

It’s the Sugar, Folks

Mark Bittman
Mark Bittman on food and all things related.
Sugar is indeed toxic. It may not be the only problem with the Standard American Diet, but it’s fast becoming clear that it’s the major one.
A study published in the Feb. 27 issue of the journal PLoS One links increased consumption of sugar with increased rates of diabetes by examining the data on sugar availability and the rate of diabetes in 175 countries over the past decade. And after accounting for many other factors, the researchers found that increased sugar in a population’s food supply was linked to higher diabetes rates independent of rates of obesity.
In other words, according to this study, it’s not just obesity that can cause diabetes: sugar can cause it, too, irrespective of obesity. And obesity does not always lead to diabetes.
The study demonstrates this with the same level of confidence that linked cigarettes and lung cancer in the 1960s. As Rob Lustig, one of the study’s authors and a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said to me, “You could not enact a real-world study that would be more conclusive than this one.”
The study controlled for poverty, urbanization, aging, obesity and physical activity. It controlled for other foods and total calories. In short, it controlled for everything controllable, and it satisfied the longstanding “Bradford Hill” criteria for what’s called medical inference of causation by linking dose (the more sugar that’s available, the more occurrences of diabetes); duration (if sugar is available longer, the prevalence of diabetes increases); directionality (not only does diabetes increase with more sugar, it decreases with less sugar); and precedence (diabetics don’t start consuming more sugar; people who consume more sugar are more likely to become diabetics).
The key point in the article is this: “Each 150 kilocalories/person/day increase in total calorie availability related to a 0.1 percent rise in diabetes prevalence (not significant), whereas a 150 kilocalories/person/day rise in sugar availability (one 12-ounce can of soft drink) was associated with a 1.1 percent rise in diabetes prevalence.” Thus: for every 12 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverage introduced per person per day into a country’s food system, the rate of diabetes goes up 1 percent. (The study found no significant difference in results between those countries that rely more heavily on high-fructose corn syrup and those that rely primarily on cane sugar.)
This is as good (or bad) as it gets, the closest thing to causation and a smoking gun that we will see. (To prove “scientific” causality you’d have to completely control the diets of thousands of people for decades. It’s as technically impossible as “proving” climate change or football-related head injuries or, for that matter, tobacco-caused cancers.) And just as tobacco companies fought, ignored, lied and obfuscated in the ’60s (and, indeed, through the ’90s), the pushers of sugar will do the same now.
But as Lustig says, “This study is proof enough that sugar is toxic. Now it’s time to do something about it.”
The next steps are obvious, logical, clear and up to the Food and Drug Administration. To fulfill its mission, the agency must respond to this information by re-evaluating the toxicity of sugar, arriving at a daily value — how much added sugar is safe? — and ideally removing fructose (the “sweet” molecule in sugar that causes the damage) from the “generally recognized as safe” list, because that’s what gives the industry license to contaminate our food supply.
On another front, two weeks ago a coalition of scientists and health advocates led by the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the F.D.A. to both set safe limits for sugar consumption and acknowledge that added sugars, rather than lingering on the “safe” list, should be declared unsafe at the levels at which they’re typically consumed. (The F.D.A. has not yet responded to the petition.)
Allow me to summarize a couple of things that the PLoS One study clarifies. Perhaps most important, as a number of scientists have been insisting in recent years, all calories are not created equal. By definition, all calories give off the same amount of energy when burned, but your body treats sugar calories differently, and that difference is damaging.
And as Lustig lucidly wrote in “Fat Chance,” his compelling 2012 book that looked at the causes of our diet-induced health crisis, it’s become clear that obesity itself is not the cause of our dramatic upswing in chronic disease. Rather, it’s metabolic syndrome, which can strike those of “normal” weight as well as those who are obese. Metabolic syndrome is a result of insulin resistance, which appears to be a direct result of consumption of added sugars. This explains why there’s little argument from scientific quarters about the “obesity won’t kill you” studies; technically, they’re correct, because obesity is a marker for metabolic syndrome, not a cause.
The take-away: it isn’t simply overeating that can make you sick; it’s overeating sugar. We finally have the proof we need for a verdict: sugar is toxic.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Practical Application

The master stonecutter patiently struck the stone again and again.  One hundred times. Two hundred times. Day after day.  On the thousandth strike, the stone broke in half, revealing the beauty of the quartz within.  The stonecutter smiled to himself, knowing it was not that blow that made the stone split, but the thousands that had gone before.

It's been a tough five months.  Since early November last year I have been deeply involved in a big project at work.  It started around September of last year, but by November it was clear this was consuming me, overshadowing everything else in my job and, ultimately, everything else in my life - period.  I began to work more and more; with late night calls growing from once a week to two, then three nights.  Finally I was on late night calls every single night (either internal or external).  I was here at work from 9AM to midnight every day.  On Fridays I would go to teach class (my unbreakable promise to the students and to myself), but then come back to work at 9PM and do more calls. More and more I began to miss the last train home.  I never saw my family except on the weekends, when I was still mentally and physically exhausted from work.  Frequent business trips to London and New York made jet lag another layer on top of it all.  I slept maybe 5 hours a night, usually less.  The stress would give me chest pain and make my hands shake.  There was no time to go to the gym, and my failing health/lack of sleep made me worried that a workout would only cause me to collapse on the spot.  Sometimes I had to stay in a business hotel near the office, since I was so busy I could not even take the time to commute back home.  Still, inch by agonizing inch, I have moved this project forward.  Now, the light of day is visible, maybe a month or so away.  What will I do when I get my life back??  What will it feel like when I finally shrug off these chains??

We often think of martial arts training as being learning to fight.
Still, I have continued to tell students that the battle in martial arts training is always the battle with THE SELF, as many zen sword masters have clearly explained.  It is a constant battle to overcome our weak mind, weak body, and weak habits and exercise our willpower to force the self into the moment, where we can be fully free and fully connected.  Good training gives us the strength to endure the unendurable; the discipline to stay the course when we think we cannot hold on; the conviction to press on until the objective is reached.

Many nights as I traveled home I wondered why I keep doing this.  Why I don't just give up. If it would all be worth it in the end.  I really don't know.  I DO know that I must finish what I start, whatever the cost.
I am now past any limits I thought I had to my ability to focus and concentrate - far past any capacity I thought I had to work hard.

Martial Arts is my religion, and my religion gives me the strength to carry on beyond any limitations I thought I had.  People ask me if I have ever had to use my training.  I always tell them I use martial arts EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Now maybe they will better understand what I mean.

See you on the other side.