Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Is Sugar a Drug?

Recently I have been reading a book from the 1970's called 'Sugar Blues'. It's a fascinating look about the history of sugar and sugars' link to the slave trade. It portrays sugar, not just as an envoy to evil human acts, but as a drug. It even goes so far as suggesting that it is in part responsible of the loss of power of the Islamic nations during the Crusades. Which is an interesting idea when you think of how the consumption of sugar has risen drastically in the West and, now that we are all getting sick and fat, we are losing our status as a World power.

I seldom eat sugar these days. However, when I do, I now think about sugar as a possible drug. For me, sugar has the same pull as a drug. When I have sugar, I want more. And more. And then a bit more. So, the idea of sugar as a drug is very interesting to me. When I speak to patients about life-style advice, they take it on very thoughtfully. They nod, they consider changing. However, if I mention reducing sugar, it's a very different reaction. I couldn't quite read what the look was but I always knew they were not going to consider reducing sugar. Then I realised what the look was-- it was fear. No one wants to give up sugar.

So, with this idea that sugar is a drug, I decided in December (as I was making holiday biscuits) that after the holidays I would reduce even further the use of sugar in the daily lives of my family. We are not big sweet eaters so this mainly meant finding an alternative to breakfast cereal and encouraging the kids to choose fruit for their school lunch pudding. My son loves his cereal and he blatantly says its because its sweet. He would sit down to breakfast and say, "I LO-O-O-VE cereal. It's so-o-o fantastic." I always found this a bit unnerving. Partially because I didn't make it. I just poured milk over processed bits of uniform shapes. But also because he would make this exclamation and then devour it obsessively without really tasting it. When you really love a food, you savor it, enjoying it thoroughly. Right?

When I discussed with him options of changing breakfast, he looked panic stricken. For two weeks, he would come to me at quiet times of the day to ask me questions about coming off sugar. He asked questions like, "How long do I need to be off of sugar? Can I do it every other day?" He was clearly worried. And this worried me. His behaviour was that of an addict-- a little nine-year old sugar addict. Gently, we have removed the processed cereals from their diet in the last couple of weeks. I make them granola from my own recipe and the kids help choose what they like in it. This morning my daughter told me that cashews or pistachios would be better than pecans. I use dates and raisins for sweetness but still add a bit of honey too. On other days we make home-made bread for toast in the morning. Still, they drizzle it with honey. For now, that will have to do. Easy does it.

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