Sleep, Exercise, and the Obesity Epidemic: Part 3
Sugar is a harmful, addictive, and sometimes deadly drug that Americans consume in excessive amounts as part of the Standard American Diet. Through our evolutionary history, the human race has consumed sugar in moderate amounts as a source of fast-acting fuel. Whole foods like fruit provide fructose (a simple sugar) as well as a source of fiber, which helps the body break down and absorb sugar; certain vegetables like carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes provide simple sugars, fiber, and other vitamins and nutrients that are beneficial to the human diet.
The human brain and body require carbohydrates as a source of fuel in order to exert energy; when a human being consumes a simple sugar, like fruit or vegetables, the body breaks them down and coverts them to fructose or glucose molecules, which then cross into the bloodstream and are transported on the hormone insulin, to cells throughout the body. On a simple and healthy diet, with moderate consumption of sugar, the pancreas produces the hormone insulin to carry sugar from the bloodstream to muscles, fat, cells, and the brain. On The Standard American Diet, however, with overconsumption of sugar and lack of physical activity, the body may become insulin resistant and sugar may accumulate in the blood, causing blood sugar to increase in concentration, which may lead to symptoms of pre-diabetes and diabetes that 100 million Americans are experiencing today.
Americans problem with sugar rests in our inability to control our craving for and addiction to certain types of added, processed, and refined sugars, which provide zero vitamins or nutrients, carry no evolutionary adapted benefits, and burden the body with illness and disease if consumed in excess over long periods. By understanding the chemical and molecular composition of glucose, human beings have discovered ways to extract sugar molecules and concentrate them to produce a higher yield as a means to extend the shelf life of products and to increase the flavor profile, two major factors that benefit the Standard American Lifestyle and allow the system of worker productivity to function with higher calorie dense but nutrient deficient foods, less time to prepare food, and less energy for physical activity. Many American’s purchase and consume food unconsciously, often allowing their primal and emotional brains to override their rational brain to make the unhealthy choice for them and find reasons to justify their decision without the feeling of guilt; yet many Americans purchase food that they believe to be healthy and nutrient dense, only to discover that the product is loaded with added sugar.
Chemists continue to find novel ways to extract and concentrate sugar, and food companies that produce and sell high-sugar content foods find increasingly deceptive ways to market their product and mask its unhealthy qualities. Altering the molecular composition of the sugar molecule allows food companies to provide different names for sugar on nutrition labels in order to deceive consumers.
There are at least 60 different names for sugar, including: agave, palm sugar, golden syrup, cane juice, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, lactose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, maltose, white sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses, malt syrup, anhydrous dextrose, fruit juice concentrates, corn syrup solids, among others. Added sugar is found in foods that many Americans believe to be healthy or in food that one would not associate with sugar, such as: Low-fat and flavored yogurt, BBQ sauce, ketchup, pasta sauce, canned soup, baked beans, protein bars, salad dressing, bread, granola and granola bars, vitamin water, oatmeal peanut butter, and cereal.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories/6 teaspoons/24 grams of added sugar per day for women; 150 calories/9 teaspoons/36 grams of added sugar per day for men; and no more than 6 teaspoons per day for children. But the average American adult consumes 82 grams/19.5 teaspoons of added sugar every single day (66 pounds of added sugar every year). Added sugar makes up 10 percent of American’s daily calorie intake; one-in-ten Americans consume at least 25 percent of their daily calories from added sugar. When combined with simple sugar consumption, the average American adult consumes over 130 pounds of sugar every year, with estimates for some individuals as high as 150 pounds of sugar every year.
A diet that consists of these large amounts of nutrient deficient and empty calories from added sugar increases your risk of: Diabetes, high-blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke; cancer, with scientific evidence that sugar activates cancer cells and causes them to accumulate in the body; depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline; tooth decay and inflammation; insulin resistance, and leptin resistance, which is the hormone responsible for regulating your appetite and fullness level; kidney disease (kidneys play an important role in filtering your blood sugar; fatty liver disease, with evidence that sugar and alcohol have a similar toxic effect on the liver; and many other illnesses and diseases.
High amounts of sugar consumption overload the liver and leads to greater stores of fat, which may lead to fatty liver disease; a person with fatty liver disease is more susceptible to high blood sugar and diabetes, which then raises your risk of heart disease and increases your likelihood of suffering a heart attack. Americans that consume 25 percent of their daily total calories from added sugar are twice as likely to die of heart disease compared to those whose diets include less than 10 percent of total daily calories from added sugar.
Biggest Contributors to Sugar Overload:
- One can of soda contains 39 grams of sugar.
- 42 percent of American’s added sugar consumption comes from sugary drinks; 1 in 4 get at least 200 of their daily calories from sugary drinks; and 5 percent get at least 567 of their daily calories from sugary drinks, which is equivalent to four cans of soda.
- 50 percent of the population consumes at least one sugary drink daily. A typical 20 ounce can of soda contains up to 18 teaspoons of sugar/39 grams/240 calories, which is 12 percent of the total daily recommended calories based on a 2000 calorie diet.
- One candy bar may contain anywhere from 20 to 60 grams of sugar; granola bars contains 9 grams of sugar.
Dopamine and Food Addiction
Food is comforting; it provides us with a welcoming and familiar feeling that replaces other, more harmful and dangerous, dopamine brain boosters like alcohol and various other addictive drugs. Human beings require food to survive, which is why so many people can justify eating unhealthy food for the sake of their survival. But our unhealthy relationship with food in the Standard American Diet stands in direct contradiction to our hunter-gatherer DNA that craves and thrives off of nutrient and vitamin dense whole foods.
Modern American society, the corporations that run the country and provide the food to feed the entire population, are set up under the American capitalist ethic of profit at all costs. Above all else, American corporations food product is created in order to sell to the most consumers, who must decide between items of similar price and taste; the foods with the most addictive qualities will often encourage consumers to purchase that particular food repeatedly.
Sugar changes the hormones and biochemistry of your body. Foods that are high in sugar and fat are evolutionary adapted to activate the brain’s dopamine reward center, which provide humans with the pleasurable feeling that is often associated with certain drugs and sugary foods. Dopamine is the brain’s pleasure neurotransmitter that encourages us to act and behave in ways that increase dopamine release; neurotransmitters are the brain’s electrochemical messengers that transport information and send signals across the brain, which allow us to think, feel emotion, and move around the physical world. The brain cannot distinguish between feelings of pleasure received from certain types of food, certain drugs, or a particular dopamine brain boosting activity like exercise.
The dopamine that the brain releases during these activities may allow addictive habits to develop through mental conditioning that forces our minds into a rigid and systematized way of thinking and behaving. By accepting the consistent unhealthy eating habits in order to encourage activation of the dopamine reward center, we are carving familiar pathways in the brain that overrides our conscious, rational behavior and responses to external stimuli and replaces them with the impulsive and addictive behavior of the primal, reptilian brain. Living on the reptilian brain level prevents conscious, human decision making from forming, which makes it more difficult to break free from the lower levels of consciousness that overrun our rational human behavior.
The rational brain tells us that the sugary food in front of us is unhealthy, but the reptilian brains tells you that you had a hard day at work and deserve a dopamine treat; your rational, human level, cerebral cortex tells you that you should work out, but your primal, reptilian brain says that you are tired and will work out tomorrow. The lower reptilian brain always seeks out dopamine boosting, unhealthy and addictive behavior because it has been evolutionary adapted over millions of years to do so in order to sustain and prolong our survival.
Food addiction resembles a behavioral addiction like shopping or gambling, and often equals the anticipation of the feeling that we receive from dopamine releasing foods, not the actual food itself; the guilt that sets in after consuming unhealthy food encourages further similar behavior to develop in order to overcome the shame of knowingly consuming unhealthy food, a process of pathological, stress and cope eating, which allows habits to form and sets us on a perpetual cycle of impulsive and unhealthy eating behavior.
To overcome this cycle of addictive food consumption, human beings must learn to rewire their brain, through neuroplasticity, to overcome the constant chatter of the impulsive, primal, reptilian brain and elevate their rational, human brains to full consciousness. Neuroplasticity is our brains ability to rewire itself by forming new neural connections and by generating positive mental conditioning through repeated behavior. By rewiring our brain to associate healthy food and positive behavior with the feeling of pleasure and dopamine release, human beings can override their old patterns and habits and replace them with new, healthy habits. Rewiring the brain to reinforce positive and healthy behavior is a long, but rewarding, process that requires a fundamental and systemic reset in our relationship with food.
Along with eating healthy food and finding the time to receive an adequate amount of sleep, physical exercise is the most important activity that a human being can engage in to: Boost dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitter production; improve mood, happiness, and wellbeing; prevent illness, disease, and premature death. Exercise is natures original and only true effective, reliable, and consistent anti-depressant. Like sleep and diet, exercise requires an act of will, a determined work ethic, and an elevated level of personal responsibility that recognizes the effort to remain healthy comes from your internal self and not an external medication or treatment, fad diet or weight loss scheme. Human beings must be willing to make the necessary changes to their lifestyle if they want to improve their health and happiness.
Over the course of American history, the United States has slowly transitioned from outdoor, agricultural, farm and field work, to factory and assembly line work during the industrial revolution in the 1850s through the automobile era in the early Twentieth-Century, until roughly the 1970s when the American workforce adopted more sedentary work, sitting in traffic and behind desks in artificially lit offices for financial institutions and corporations. The gradual progression from an active, outdoor worker, to a sedentary, indoor worker has forced many Americans into leading an unhealthy and inactive lifestyle with less time, money and energy to accomplish what Americans in the past met with relative ease.
Today, only 20 percent of jobs in the United States require moderate physical activity, compared to 50 percent in the 1960s. Studies on exercise in the United States show that, with more time at work and less time for physical activity, as much as 80 percent of the American population, over age 18, do not meet the recommended amount of aerobic and muscle strengthening exercise; 80 million Americans are completely physically inactive. In one study by the CDC, in particular, physical inactivity in women rose from 19 percent in 1980 to 52 percent in 2010; while physical activity in men rose from 11 percent in 1980 to 43 percent in 2010, (study defines ideal exercise as more than 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise or more than 75 minutes of vigorous exercise).
Benefits of Exercise
Exercise promotes greater blood flow; improves brain function and protects memory and thinking skills; increases heart rate, which promotes the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain; decreases feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression by elevating serotonin and dopamine levels and releasing feel-good endorphins; stimulates the production of hormones that enhance brain cell growth; releases hormones that promote the ability of your muscles to absorb amino acids, this helps muscles grow and reduces breakdown and atrophy; builds bone density in younger people, which helps prevent osteoporosis later in life; increases relaxation and improves sleep quality; increases production of natural antioxidants, which protect cell and skin health; reduces chronic pain and increases pain tolerance; improves insulin sensitivity; decreases blood pressure; lowers blood sugar levels; boosts self-confidence and self-image; improves mindfulness and mood by boosting positive thoughts and reducing negative feelings and emotions; lowers likelihood of impulsive reactions and anger; increases norepinephrine levels (a neurotransmitter that moderates the brains response to stress), increases production of brain cells in the hippocampus (where memories are stored), boosts metabolism; promotes neuroplasticity (brain rewiring) and neurogenesis (brain cell growth), lowers inflammation (inflammation causes the body to become red, swollen, inflamed as a defense mechanism to fight off infections from harmful pathogens); reduces risk of chronic disease and premature death.
Weight Loss Schemes
American adults have gained an average of one to two pounds a year for the past twenty to thirty years. With thousands of fad-diets, weight loss medications, get-sim-quick schemes, and complex surgery procedures, weights loss is often marketing to Americans as one simple, quick, and effective solution away, for little money down. Americans spend over $20 billion a year on weight loss schemes, but the country continues to gain weight at a more rapid pace than in the past. The issue with these weight loss gimmicks lies in the likelihood that an individual will commit to the plan; without a permanent lifestyle shift, the plans are unsustainable. By placing emphasis on diets and temporary programs or surgery, people are tricked and convinced that they can continue leading an unhealthy and inactive lifestyle, but also lose weight in the process. This fallacy pushes people towards untested, low-fat, fad-diets that may appear healthy and effective on the surface, but are actually loading with sugar and carbohydrates.
When attempting to lose weight, our fat cells send signals to the brain to try to resist further loss of fat, we feel hungry and seek dopamine rewards; when dieting, our metabolism slows down to match the decreased food intake, making it more difficult to lose weight. Our bodies are evolutionary adapted over hundreds of thousands of years to retain the weight on our bodies, in case of future famine. This makes it difficult to lose weight and keep it off without committing to a systemic lifestyle, exercise, diet reset that removes the negative habits and patterns of our past behavior and replaces them with new, healthy and sustainable habits that can be maintained throughout the rest of life. Without a dedicated and determined work ethic, get-slim-quick schemes will end quick and often leave participants with feelings of hopelessness and despair that they may never lose weight, which may lead back to the unhealthy eating patterns of their past. Part 4