Organic Connections Reader Poll Targets Cause of Obesity

Refined carbsOrganic Connections magazine readers responded to a recent poll in which 70 percent of them rejected “eating too much and not exercising enough” as the prime cause of obesity in America, attributing it instead to “eating and drinking refined carbohydrates.”

“This is an interesting result,” commented Organic Connections publisher Ken Whitman. “The food industry is trying to get off the hook by blaming the obesity epidemic on consumers, saying that they eat too much and exercise too little. Of course, it has been the food industry all along that has spent billions in advertising to get all of us to eat more. But our readers feel that the answer is rather about what’s in the food, and they’re holding processed-food manufacturers accountable for the excess refined carbohydrates in their products.

Our reasder survey on obesityAmericans lead a sugarcoated lifestyle. To prove the point, profits of the world’s leading manufacturer of diabetes care products, Novo Nordisk, are predicted to grow a minimum of 18 percent annually over the next five years. The American Heart Association warns that consumption of sugars should be cut by at least 50 percent to protect heart health.

Refined carbohydrates are empty calories, void of nutrition and fiber. They are metabolized quickly, causing blood sugar to spike and then fall rapidly. Many people are familiar with the fatigue and cravings for sweets associated with this incessant cycle, and much has been written about how the food industry benefits from consumers’ insatiable appetite for sugars. Most importantly, however, refined carbs are undeniably hazardous to health.

A Harvard School of Public Health report published in the November 2010 journal Diabetes Care found, in a study of more than 300,000 participants, that drinking 1–2 sugary drinks daily increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 26 percent and increased the risk of metabolic syndrome by 20 percent. Metabolic syndrome includes factors such as hypertension and excess body fat around the waist, which increase the risk of coronary artery disease, stroke and diabetes.

Research at Penn State University in 2005 conducted by Sibylle Kranz, PhD and registered dietician, revealed that the average sugar intake of 5,400 children 2 to 5 years old was 12–17 teaspoons per day—over a quarter of their daily calories—the sources of which included fruit juices, candy, desserts and soft drinks. The tripling of childhood obesity over the past 30 years is a sad correlation.

The average American consumes approximately 300 grams of refined carbohydrates daily, equivalent to 23 slices of commercial white sandwich bread, 9 full-size Mounds candy bars, over a quart of grape juice, 53 marshmallows, or a whole apple pie. Canned soups, ketchup, breakfast cereals, crackers, and many processed and frozen foods assumed by many consumers to be healthy, or at least not junk food, are actually hidden sources of refined carbs and contribute to an estimated 150 pounds of extra sugars consumed per capita annually in America.

Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, has seen this scenario unfold at record speed in Dubai, where diabetes, the number one threat to health, is responsible for 75 percent of premature deaths. “It’s obvious to me from working in Dubai that adopting our westernized, highly refined food and drink over the past two decades is a major cause of the 40 percent rate of diabetes among the population there. That same diet contributes to the 60 percent rate of obesity and 8 percent rate of diabetes in the US,” says Dean.

The debate is over, and refined carbs are clearly the loser. Yet obesity, diabetes and heart disease continue to rise in westernized countries. Fortunately, the dilemma of immediate gratification from a diet high in refined carbohydrates can be resolved with greater awareness and changes in lifestyle. This is where the average person can vote with his or her purchases to reject the cash-hungry push of industry to feed us more and more sugars.