It sounds like a recipe for "how to be a mean mommy." Announce to your family that for the following year, no sugar will be permitted. No birthday cakes, no Halloween candy, no chocolate Easter bunnies. Yet that decision to undertake a year without sugar proved life-changing for Eve Schaub and her children, reported NPR on Friday.
Schaub didn't make the decision on a whim. Her journey to banning sugar from her home and family's lives began in 2010. That was the year that pediatrician Dr. Robert Lustig made history with his video that became a book: "Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease." A University of California, San Francisco physician, Dr. Lustig proclaimed fructose to be a poison, linking it to conditions such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Since learning of Dr. Lustig's views, Schaub had been paying attention to the hidden sugar in foods ranging from salad dressing to soup. She believed his view that sugar is the biggest demon in our diets. "Sugar is everywhere, it's making us all fat and sick, and almost no one realizes it," she agreed.
And thus came the decision: For their health and well-being, it was time to try a radical experiment in her family's home. "This experiment was pretty much guaranteed to wreak all kinds of unpredictable havoc with our lives," Schaub admitted. And her reaction, despite the inevitable work involved in scrutinizing food labels and playing the role of family food cop: "I loved it."
After discovering what's really involved in cutting sugar completely out of your life, Schaub wrote a book about it: "Year of No Sugar: A Memoir." Despite the title, it's more than a memoir, however. Schaub also researched the price that we pay for our national addiction to sugar, including a higher risk of diabetes, weight gain and even a higher risk of cancer. In addition, she discovered the difficulty that consumers face in trying to eliminate sugar. The names under which sugar masquerades include corn syrup and honey.
But Schaub's experience was not all negative. She reports that her family discovered benefits in cutting out sugar. They had more energy, fewer colds and less digestive problems. In addition, she become a self-taught chef, whipping up substitute sweet treats such as whipped frozen bananas.
Now that the year is over, Schaub told NPR that she's changed her attitude toward sugar. "I certainly feel that there's a place for sugar, but it's gotten totally out of control. In our family, we eat it now in small amounts, for special occasions. That's what sugar is designed to be: small and special."
However, some experts disagree that sugar has a place in our diets. Neurologist David Perlmutter, for example, links sugar to conditions ranging from dementia to depression in his book "Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers." And while not everyone agrees, Dr. Perlmutter cites studies showing a link between sugar intake and increased risk of Alzheimer's disease, cancer and metabolic syndrome.
For those focused on weight loss, the evidence mounts that sugar is linked to excess pounds. Researcher Jim Mann, DM, PhD, professor of human nutrition and medicine at the University of Otago analyzed the results of 30 clinical trials and 38 additional studies to determine how giving up or cutting down on sugar impacts weight. Adults who were instructed to reduce sugar lost an average of about two pounds in less than a year without making other changes to their diet. Those told to consume more sugar gained about the same amount.
As for the message from that study that reducing sugar intake causes weight loss, certified nutrition consultant Diane Sanfilippo says that consuming sugar results in more than additional calories. She contends it cause cravings not just for sweets but for carbohydrates, making it almost impossible to lose weight. She's created a detox program specifically for that purpose: "The 21-Day Sugar Detox: Bust Sugar & Carb Cravings Naturally."
And for those who assume that the battle against sugar is taking place only in the United States, it's time to meet the Action on Sugar. The British-based group is advocating food manufacturers to reduce sugar in food. On their Twitter page, they note: "Excess sugar is linked to obesity, cancer, type II diabetes, heart disease & tooth decay. It is time we all take action!"
Is sugar truly addictive, as some say? Pediatrician Dr. Lustig says yes. He made headlines when he told "60 Minutes" that brain scans show that sugar is as addictive as cocaine. That comparison is valid because of sugar's euphoric effect that triggers dopamine, a chemical that controls pleasure in the brain, according to the physician.