National Geographic August 2013

Sugar Love (A Not So Sweet Story), by Rich Cohen, photographs by Robert Clark

This is not the first article in the issue, but I wanted to get it out of the way.  My dad handed this issue to me and said, “This will prove to you that I’m right.  Sugar is poison.” And, in fact, one of the scientists they quote in the article says so, in exactly those words.  Then, they provide us with a graph showing how diabetes is increasing right next to a graph showing that sugar consumption is decreasing.

Come on now, if Tyler Vigen can show a correlation between US Spending on science, space, and technology and suicides by hanging, strangulation, and suffocation, surely the folks at National Geographic can do better than that.  As an aside, Vigen’s Spurious Correlations website is a great way to kill an hour or so.

I have to admit that I came to this with a bias.  An old friend who is an evolutionary biologist once explained how we’re eating a lot more food than we used to and, this is important, the calories in that food are now more bioavailable than the used to be. We eat more frozen dinners and restaurant food and Lunchables than we did decades ago.  We also eat a lot less fiber, and really the more I read, the more I think that fiber is really kind of key here; fiber lowers “bad” cholesterol, effects hormone levels for the better, and increases insulin sensitivity. She explained that our ancestors probably went through something very much like our current obesity epidemic once we started cooking our food.  Cooking breaks down the foods and makes, you guessed it, the calories more bioavailable.  Her belief is that those whose genes could cope with the additional calories used those extra calories to build smarter brains capable of things like language and music and civil engineering.

Cohen also tells us that people are eating less fat and are getting larger.  If Americans really were eating that much leaner, wouldn’t McDonald’s now be a salad bar restaurant?  It isn’t.  They still serve deep-fried all sorts of things.  The deli at my store used to sell roasted chicken legs.  No more.  Now, unless one of the few fresh salads available (and the last time I had one of those, it tasted like old refrigerator) or sliced meats and cheeses it’s deep-fried (I don’t eat much at the deli since they got rid of the roasted chicken legs).  Taco Bell’s new thing is cheese, sour cream, and meat in a deep-fried shell.  Meanwhile, my local salad bar place just closed.  If you can’t tell, I’m not real persuaded that low-fat dieting is the culprit here.

Oh, and I’m not a professional editor, but shouldn’t “not so sweet” be hyphenated? It’s a compound adjective modifying “story,” isn’t it?

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