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Public confused; sugar neither healthy nor natural

Credit: Terry Brown/Art Staff Credit: Terry Brown/Art Staff
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I feel the need to take this space this week to point something out to you, something that I thought was fairly obvious, but, apparently, is not: Sugar is not healthy.

To avoid sounding like a complete hypocrite, I need to admit a few things. I love Pixy Stix; I dump about six sugars into every cup of coffee that I drink, regardless of size; and I think that I could live on Nutella alone. Yes, I do realize that my teeth are probably rotting away as you read this; no, I don’t particularly care, because the taste more than makes up for it, and I have standing six-month appointments at my dentist. However, while I’m eating these sugary sweet foods, I’m not telling myself that I’m eating a particularly healthy snack.

Last year, high fructose corn syrup was the big food fad — you may recall the (crazy) commercials that attempted to promote it as healthy. Whether you loved them or hated them, they definitely got high fructose corn syrup’s name out there everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. I couldn’t watch any TV station for more than five minutes without seeing one of the terribly scripted and terribly acted commercials.

This year, however, sugar is the new high fructose corn syrup. People are starting to switch from purchasing foods and drinks with high fructose corn syrup to those with sugar, believing it to be the “healthier” choice of the two options. Unfortunately, these people are sadly mistaken.

This is not to say that I believe high fructose corn syrup is healthy. A few months ago, I wrote an article criticizing the high fructose corn syrup commercials — really, you feel the need for commercials to promote a sugar substitute? Really, you want to make Americans the object of ridicule around the world for yet another reason? And I stand by what I said in the article; high fructose corn syrup is not and never will be healthy, and we do not need commercials to promote unhealthy eating. However, when I wrote this, I was not trying to imply that it was healthier to eat sugar instead; rather, I meant that both were unhealthy.

Unfortunately, people have become very confused. In today’s world, “natural” is associated with “healthy,” and that’s exactly what sugar is being promoted as — natural (even though most sugar found in every day foods is actually refined, and thus not natural). Thus, people are associating sugar with healthy, an association that I did not think that I would ever hear. And yes, sugar is healthy in moderation. If you think back to your elementary school days, and the food pyramid (the original one, not the new-and-improved one that I can’t understand), you’ll recall that sugar, along with fats and oils, was at the top of the triangle, showing that yes, these things are part of your daily diet, but healthy only when eaten sparingly.

What many people don’t realize is that while research is still ongoing, recent studies have shown that sugar and high fructose corn syrup are equally healthy, or, if you will, equally unhealthy. And yet, some are trying to blame high fructose corn syrup for increasing obesity rates. Rather than blaming high fructose corn syrup, though, I think the answer lies in the appalling number of pounds of sugar and high fructose corn syrup that Americans eat per year — 44 and 40, respectively, which are ridiculously high numbers.

But people will not be looking to these numbers for the answers to their food- and health-related problems. In America, food, just like so many other things, is a fad. A few years ago, the Atkins diet was all the rage, and now you hear almost nothing about it. Instead, eating natural and organic foods is the cool thing to do. And eating sugar fits right into this — it’s the most natural of all the sweetening options, thus, it’s popular. And things that are popular often turn into things that are healthy in the common perception.

Obviously, I’m not trying to completely eradicate sugar from people’s diets, as that’s not even reasonable. I would be very unhappy drinking black coffee and eating unsweetened foods, and some sugar is healthy for you. But people need to realize that just because sugar is less processed than high fructose corn syrup does not mean it’s healthy. People need to stop getting caught up in the food fads that begin and end faster than your four years in college and instead take a look at the nutrition facts on the back of food packages. If you’re really interested in eating healthy, you’ll learn more there than you ever will from any commercial or gossip about a certain product.