Dr. Robert Lustig: “Be Very Scared.”

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Day 13: to ADHD and back again

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Bestselling author Gary Taubes on Sugar

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1 election, 3 quotes and 600 zombies (with sugar on top)

A few quotable epiphanies in the wake of my sugar splurge.

“Some kids don’t get enough calories.”

When asked to clarify her stance that sugar was a “nutrient” and whether sugar was in fact empty calories, the school’s Registered Dietician answered: “Some kids don’t get enough calories.”

True. In sub-Saharan Africa. But in American schools, we are experiencing an obesity epidemic. It’s good to know the ADA-certified person deciding the diets of 4,400 students has such a contextual grasp of the absurd. Some kids don’t get enough Scooby Snacks either.

Here’s the link that explains why.
Note the “partners” section.

“Your mom lets you buy that?”

A few weeks ago, I walked by a neighbor’s house, toting my Sugar Daddy diet of sweetened neon sports drinks and high-carb snack bars. Their three year old looked at me with repulsed incredulity and asked, “Your mom lets you buy that?”

A three year old knows junk food when she sees it. Somehow, a lot of adults don’t. Most of whom should know better. The city school administrators recently reinstated ice cream sales – because they rely on the profits.

No, schools aren’t moms. (Alas.) But they are caregivers. And the ones around here care to not only let you buy it – they’re in the business. You get sprinkles with your diploma.

“I’m just trying to win.”

Ivana Kadija ran on a health platform for school board. She lost. Maybe only 10% of the electorate supports better school nutrition. Or perhaps it had something to do with tactics.

At a poll I (rather publicly) accused another school board candidate of distributing deceptive sample ballots. Her defense: “I’m just trying to win.”

I can imagine the same words coming from the Coca-Colas and the Nestlés of the world. They’re just trying to win. And they do win. My congratulations to all the winners.

Incidentally, only 25% of registered voters voted. I recently produced a Zombie 5K that sported an impressive 600 runners. Relatively speaking, a zombie race might be more popular than a political one. Perhaps our campaign slogan should have been: “Healthy Food for Better Braaaaiiiiiiiiiiiins.”

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Is Health Academic? Part 2

What does sugar have to do with the SOLs? Activity with the ACTs? And whole body health with truancy, discipline, drop-out rates and college admissions? Here’s a little food for thought from the folks with the impressive initials after their names.

“Children can learn at optimal levels only if they are healthy,” says Howard Taras, MD, Acting Chief of Community Pediatrics at the UCSD School of Medicine. What’s working against them? According to Taras, cafeteria diet.

“While American children are not malnourished – that is, most of them get more than enough calories – the types of foods that make up those calories are too high in sugar (soft drinks, sweetened breakfast cereals) and fat (chips, fries, donuts) and too low in fiber and natural vitamin sources (whole grains, vegetables, fruit).”

Taras sees the problem double-fold. Schools have cut phys ed and recess, while promoting the very junk food that causes students to gain weight. In Charlottesville City Schools, one in three kids is either overweight or obese. Yet, last year the schools sold $84,000 worth of ice cream in school snack bars. Taras says it’s no surprise kids are gaining weight. But how do academics fit in? Let’s ask the experts.

“Efforts to improve school performance that ignore health are ill-conceived, as are health improvement efforts that ignore education,” states The National Commission on the Role of School and the Community in Improving Adolescent Health.

Healthier kids perform better. A lot better – as the most current clinical data proves.

Studies in 2008 by Dr. Paul J. Veugelers of the University of Alberta found that: “Students who ate an adequate amount of fruit, vegetables, protein, fiber and other components of a healthy diet were significantly less likely to fail a literacy test.” Another 2008 two-year study found that improving the nutritional quality of school meals improved math scores.

And, junk food drives scores down. Significantly. In another 2008 lifetime study, Dr Pauline Emmett from the University of Bristol found a “robust association” between children’s unhealthy diets and poor tests scores. “Youngsters who lived on sweets, crisps and chicken nuggets from an early age were 10% more likely to be failing between the ages of six and ten than their classmates.”

A 2008 paper published in the Journal of School Health puts it bluntly: “Above and beyond socioeconomic factors, diet quality is important to academic performance.” This is a science-based strategy. The evidence is clear. Change the diet. Change the results. And it has been actively implemented seemingly everywhere but here.

This isn’t news. As a result of changes in school diet in the early 1980s in New York City schools, the average performance of New York schools rose from the 41st percentile to the 51st percentile.

In 2000, a Georgia elementary school went completely sugar-free. Test scores improved 15% in the first year. And Browns Mill Elementary became a National Blue Ribbon School in 2005. A Georgia School of Excellence in 2005 and 2008. More impressive still: disciplinary incidents dropped 23% within six months.

Diet changes discipline, too. Significantly.

Look at Appleton, Wisconsin – where an out-of-control high school (with a full-time, armed police officer on staff) overhauled its cafeteria food. In two months, zero discipline problems. Drop-outs went from 350 per year to 16. Fact.

The evidence is apparent. If not unsettling. A recent study on Boston high school students found “a significant and strong association between soft drinks and violence.” Violence against peers, siblings and dates. The study’s researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health said: “It was shocking to us when we saw how clear the relationship was.”

Blood sugar fluctuation affects behavior. Period. Sugar has also been clinically liked to impulsivity, hyperactivity, mental distress and schizophrenia. We don’t have the space in this article to get into its systemic ramifications and the “metabolic syndrome” of diabetes, heart disease and stroke … much less cancer.

This isn’t about hysteria, hypothesis or opinion (or “religion or politics” as one school dietician proposed at a school board meeting). It’s about fundamental bio-chemistry. It’s also about public policy.

Policy that’s been changed for the healthier in Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Florida, California, Colorado and Texas. In October, the entire state of Massachusetts, which already has the top-ranking schools in the nation, banned candy, soda, french fries and chocolate milk from its school cafeterias. “This puts Massachusetts in the lead in promoting children’s health and well-being,” boasts Valerie Bassett, director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association. Where does it put Virginia? You decide.

The new nine-page strategic Wellness Policy, drafted by the School Health Advisory Board last year, has been sitting on the desks of the city school board since June, and likely stands to be ignored for yet another semester. How long need our children wait for a healthier solution?

It’s not about silver bullets … or silver spoons, for that matter. All kids benefit from better nutrition, regardless of ethnicity or economics. Good health is good science and good public policy. But if you can’t stomach the research (or the messenger), just know it was unarguably Thomas Jefferson who wrote: “Health is worth more than learning.”


Sidebar: The science of sugar can be perhaps traced to the growth hormone brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Rat studies at UCLA found that subjects learn faster if they have more BDNF. Sugar consumption inhibits BDNF production. It took only two months on a high sugar diet to significantly reduce BDNF in the brains of animals and to affect their ability to perform spatial and memory tasks.

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Is Health Academic? (Vote Ivana Nov. 8)

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Interview with Sugar Daddy and a scene from the upcoming documentary on Lana Young’s TV show.

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Is sugar patriotic?

He probably could do without a serving of added sweetener. But, this June, heart-attack surviving talk-show pundit / self-styled patriot Rush Limbaugh launched Two If By Tea, a beverage sporting him as a fat Paul Revere, shouting: “The Liberals are coming!” A 16 oz bottle contains 30 grams of sugar (nearly 8 tsp). Somehow this is supposed to help our great nation.

True, in the US, we rely heavily on our agricultural ambrosia. America’s sugar farmers, processors, and refiners create 146,000 jobs and generate nearly $10 billion a year for the U.S. economy. As the American Sugar Alliance touts: “America’s sugar is produced in 18 states so we don’t have to depend on unreliable foreign countries for this vital ingredient.” God forbid we need a pipeline of dates from the Middle East.

But sweet-dependent we are. The average American consumes 156 pounds of added sugar each year per capita, according to the USDA. And the U.S. Department of Commerce tells us sugar is an “essential ingredient” used in 70% of our manufactured food.

The Hand that Feeds U.S. – an “educational resource for urban media on the importance of U.S. agriculture to the security and future of our country,” brought to you in part by the American Sugar Alliance – asks us: “What is an inexpensive source of energy, is 100% natural, good for the environment and is a fun ingredient in your favorite foods?” American sugar, of course, you sour commie rat.

In these hard times, we need a little sweetness more than ever. No matter what the cost. While most industries limped through the economic doldrums, one thrived, according to “Confectioners’ Sweet Recession,” a report released this summer at the 28th International Sweetener Symposium by the American Sugar Alliance.  Stories of job creation, facility expansion and record sales pepper the pages.

“Candy companies make money in good times and in bad,” agrees the National Confectioners Association, which posted a 3.7% sales gain this year. Hershey’s posted a 20% increase in profit during just the first quarter. So, who’s paying for it?

According to the Cato Institute, you are. They claim the U.S. government spends close to $1.68 billion a year buying and storing excess sugar to maintain artificially high domestic prices. (Note: they also advocate auctioning off Yellowstone National Park.) By some measures, U.S. sugar prices have averaged twice the world price since the 1980’s, when Ronald Reagan reinstated Sugar Act quotas that sought to create an artificial shortage of sugar and drive up U.S. prices.

Sugar certainly keeps lots of folks busy on Capital Hill. Jeanne Shaheen (D – NH) and Republican Mark Kirk (R – IL) recently presented the Stop Unfair Giveaways and Restrictions (SUGAR) Act. “The sugar support program costs consumers $4 billion a year – to disproportionally benefit a limited group of wealthy sugar producers,” Shaheen said. “The SUGAR Act protects consumers, saves American jobs, and allows U.S. confectioners, bakers, beverage companies, and food manufacturers to stay in business.” There’s a reason why Pepsi is red, white and blue.

Another day in the land of stars, stripes, yellow moons and green clovers (they’re magically delicious) – where freedom isn’t sugar-free. And Uncle Sam has diabetes.

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Day 19: Sugar-Size Me

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Is Sugar Love?

Sweetheart. Honey pie. Sugar plum. Let me nibble thee.

In Charlottesville we are blessed to have Gearhart’s chocolates: hand-dipped artisanal ganache of fine quality, crafted with Criollo Cacoa from the finest Venezuelan plantations.

It’s what you give your wife for your Anniversary (when you remember it) … and Valentine’s Day (when they’re not sold out) … and Mother’s Day … and her birthday … and, well, whenever you feel you’ve been “inattentive” lately. Roses work, too. But you can’t share them in quite the same way.

Gearhart’s don’t come in heart-shaped boxes, but the intention is the same. They intend to say, “I love you.” And the opiates and amphetamines (endorphins, serotonin and phenylethylamine) that they trigger in your brain, up your blood pressure, eliciting feelings of excitement – a bit like love … or, a bite like love.

But is it love? When a mom prepares a pie for her family, does that not demonstrate devotion? When a teacher cooks cupcakes for her class, does that not bespeak her best intentions? When a bus driver doles out tootsie rolls, is that not a cause for a round of “Here’s to the busdriver, the greatest of all?”

A doctor’s lollipop. A handful of hugs on Halloween. Sugar’s how we show we care. For others and ourselves. When the world seems an unwelcome place, nothing says “I love me” like a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. For the moment, anyway. You might hate yourself in the morning.

What happens when the honeymoon is over? And the sweetness has begun to seem saccharine? And you’ve bought your hundredth box of Gearhart’s – making the gesture, now merely mechanical, lose its meaning?

Is, in fact, sugar more like a Hallmark card? The thing you give when you don’t have the time or energy to write what you mean to say. Or perhaps you simply feel obligated. As a commodity, sugar is cheap and always in stock – unlike authentic emotions, which are in scarce supply.

If you’re short on the sugar, are you lacking in love? Is a house bereft of Oreos, a den of a deprived childhood? When there’s no dessert, does it mean the neighbors, with their ambrosia, treasure their children more? When there’s nothing in the lunchbox but soup and a sandwich, the other kids at the cafeteria table indeed seem more popular (there and at home), munching on their Mallomars.

I’m not being bitter. Or sour. Taste has little to do with true feelings. Sugar simply does not equal love. (And Equal does not equal sugar, or love.) We confuse confections with affections. And fondness for fondant. Dove sounds like love, but you can’t nestle with Nestlé. So, next time, give me a squeeze when I ask you for “some sugar.”

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