ENVIRONMENTALISM PERSONAL

Dirty sugar industry 〰 Why and how I quit eating sugar

 Candy, ice cream, chocolate, cakes, doughnuts, soft drinks, bread, tomato sauce, flavoured water, “healthy” cereals, added sugar is everywhere and it´s addictive. With December coming closer we know what´s coming. A co-worker brings in brownies, your friend makes cookies for a holiday party. Candy is arriving from all the sides. It is a celebration, it is festivity, it is love. It’s happiness and it´s also a danger.

Sugar, perhaps more than salt, contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease. The evidence is growing, that eating too much of it can lead to fatty liver disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and kidney disease. Yet people can’t resist. And the reason for that is pretty simple. It´s addictive. And I don’t mean addictive in that way that people talk about delicious foods. I mean addictive, literally, in the same way as drugs. And the food industry is doing everything it can to keep us hooked. 

Next to making us addicted and unhealthy (like that is not bad enough) it´s is also bad for the environment and the people involved in the production. Let´s me explain why.

1. IT´S BAD FOR OUR HEALTH

 No surprise there. I did some research to find out exactly what happens to our body when it gets hit by it. This is what I found out (nerdfitness.com):

So, we have this sugar in our body and bloodstream. What happens next? When your pancreas detects a rush of sugar, it releases a hormone called insulin to deal with all of that excess sugar. Insulin helps regulate that level of sugar in our blood; the more sugar in the bloodstream, the more insulin is released.  Insulin helps to store all of this glucose in the liver and muscles and in fat cells. Now, oftentimes our body struggles to get that balance right (with us putting way too much sugar in our system very quickly). TOO much insulin is released, which ultimately results in our blood sugar dropping below normal levels.

This is called hypoglycemia, essentially a sugar crash: Our bodies respond by telling us: WE WANT SUGAR. So we cram sugar down our throats and the process starts again. 

Unfortunately, the more often this process takes place (the more sugar you consume), the more severe the blood sugar spike is, and the more insulin is required. This means it becomes easier and easier to skip using sugar as energy and go straight to extra insulin and fat storage.

Along with making you fat, sugar consumption has been implicated in a litany of crimes, including contributing to an increased chance of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, macular degeneration, renal failure, chronic kidney disease, and high blood pressure.

ADDICTION

Sugary foods can be as physiologically addictive as many drugs.  You can legitimately become addicted to sugar and sugary foods. The studies show that your brain lights up with sugar just like it does with cocaine or heroin.  ln fact, sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine. Holly crap! 

So, if you start your baby early on addictive highly sugary foods, they’re gonna become addicted. Take a look at the formula. Certain formulas, especially lactose-free formulas,  they substitute with sucrose. The food industry knows that the earlier they introduce these foods to people,  to children, to infants,  the more likely they will have branded them for the future.

WHAT ABOUT FRUIT?

When you consume fruit, you are not only consuming fructose (in its natural state), but also consuming fibre and lots of vitamins and minerals.  Yes, fruit can have an effect on your blood sugar, it IS sugar. But generally, the fruit will cause less of a blood sugar spike compared to nutrient-void table sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Fibre is an important part of a balanced diet (ask your bowels), and fruit can contain a lot of it! Consume fruit that has a low glycemic index/glycemic loadto reduce blood sugar spikes and insulin secretion.  Consume organic fruit when possible.

So when I talk about quitting sugar, I´m talking about added processed sugar. 

 Cristian Girotto 

2. PRODUCTION IS NOT ETHICAL NOR SUSTAINABLE

Roughly 145 million tons of sugar is produced in 121 countries each year. And the production does indeed take its toll on surrounding soil, water and air, especially in threatened tropical ecosystems near the equator.

Report by WWF, titled “Sugar and the Environment,” shows that sugar may be responsible for more biodiversity loss than any other crop, due to its destruction of habitat to make way for plantations, its intensive use of water for irrigation, its heavy use of agricultural chemicals, and the polluted wastewater that is routinely discharged in the production process.

One extreme example of environmental destruction by this industry is the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. Waters around the reef suffer from large quantities of effluents, pesticides, and sediment from sugar farms, and the reef itself is threatened by the clearing of land, which has destroyed the wetlands that are an integral part of the reef’s ecology.

Meanwhile, in Papua New Guinea, soil fertility has declined by about 40% over the last three decades in heavy sugar cane cultivation regions. And some of the world’s mightiest rivers—including the Niger in West Africa, the Zambezi in Southern Africa, the Indus River in Pakistan, and the Mekong River in Southeast Asia—have nearly dried up as a result of thirsty, water-intensive sugar production.

(www.thoughtco.com)

CHOCOLATE

When we talk about candy, we can not ignore the production of chocolate. Chocolate comes from coco beans, and about 70% of coco beans come from Ghana and the Ivory Coast in Africa. Coco bean plantations where it is grown and harvested have historically relied on child, slave labour to harvest those coco beans so that you and I can eat a product many of them have never tasted. As told by Food Is Power, the reality of human trafficking and modern slavery to produce chocolate is a true evil of our time.

The basics of life as a child on a cocoa plantation are rather dire; long work days instead of receiving an education, hazardous working conditions using chainsaws and machetes, exposure to pesticides, and carrying heavy loads of harvested pods. Some of these kids will never see their families again– those who do will return with scars, both physical and emotional.

If you love chocolate or you wanna buy some for gifts, please consider buying Fairtrade and vegan chocolate. 

I suggest this short documentary called The Dark Side of Chocolate:  The dark side of chocolate

3. CANDY INDUSTRY IS BAD AND FULL OF TRICKS 

Here’s  a quick list of what sugar can be listed as on a label: Agave nectar, Brown sugar, Cane crystals, Cane sugar, Corn sweetener, Corn syrup, Crystalline, Fructose, Dextrose, Evaporated cane juice, Organic evaporated cane juice, Fruit juice concentrates, Glucose, High-fructose corn syrup, Honey, Invert sugar, Lactose, Maltose, Malt syrup, Molasses, Raw sugar, Sucrose, Sugar, Syrup.

Why do they change the name?  Because nutritional labels are required by law to list their most prominent ingredients first. By putting two or three different types of sugar in the food (and calling them each a different name), they can spread out the sugar across three ingredients and have it show up much further down the list!  Tricky tricky tricky!

So, with more research coming out about the dangers of sugar, companies are scrambling to protect their image by promoting “healthy” alternatives so that they can slap on fancy labels and toot their own horn. It is nothing but greenwashing/lies.

Candy industry has been marketing their products for decades and they know exactly how to get people and especially kids to love them and to identify with them. Kids and adults are worshipping them. Every store these days has junk food right at the eye level of your kids. And then you add the emotional gloss. You add other things, add favourite cartoon characters and make it into entertainment, you add toys.  

Please watch this video by Kristen Leo:

4. CANDY PACKAGING AND PLASTIC POLLUTION 

Candy and plastic go hand in hand. It´s not easy to find candy without plastic wrapping. We already know that only a small amount of all the plastic actually gets recycled (5-10%!). But the chances of candy wrapping making the cut, are as small as the wrapping itself. The rest of the plastic sits in the landfills and end up in the oceans. 

5. DAIRY

The majority of candy contains milk. The dairy industry is cruel, polluting and one of the biggest contributors to global warming.  There are approximately 270 million dairy cows in the world today. The cows are raped, abused, pumped with antibiotics and milked till they die from exhaustion. Dairy cows and their manure produce greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change. Poor handling of manure and fertilizers can degrade local water resources. And unsustainable dairy farming and feed production can lead to the loss of ecologically important areas, such as prairies, wetlands, and forests.

Next to those antibiotics ending up in milk. Milk contains also hormones, pus (at least 322 million cell-counts of pus per glass), bacterias, faeces and blood cells. Don´t know for you, but I would prefer skipping that.

HOW I BROKE UP WITH SUGAR

About 2 months ago I went to Hvar with my boyfriend and went shopping for our holidays and somehow didn´t buy any sweets. No chocolate, no cookies, no treats. We just both had too much candy, ice creams, cookies in the past months and we were not feeling good or fit. And we definitely both went through a detox phase, moments of feeling nervous, moments of feeling annoyed and very easily triggered. It took us 2 days before we realise it´s the lack of sugar in our body. We survived the first 3-4 days, tried to eat a lot of fruit. After that, it got really easy. I stopped thinking about it. I had no ups and downs.

Another reason was that my mom was there with us and she had Type 2 diabetes. And my grandpa (from my dad´s side… from where we also have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attacks…) had Type 1 diabetes. Our family has bad medical records and that´s one of the reasons why I´m on a plant-based “diet” and now also no (or very low) sugar. 

After weeks of no processed sugar, no candy, no ice cream, no chocolate, no cakes … my taste changed, my cravings changed. In the past week, I had some cake for my bday and pancakes. And it´s all sooooo sweet now. I can only eat one small piece of cake, or 2 pancakes instead of 4+. I´m far from being strong, I will probably fail here and there. But I´m happy my sugar intake drastically dropped. Now nice-cream (frozen bananas and other fruits) or smoothie bowl in the morning is already enough sweetness for the whole day.

And I know it would be harder if I would next to sugar also give up my coffee. Those 1-2 coffees per day were my treat, my dessert. My other addiction I guess. 

I also spend less money on sweets and of course feel better. That´s why I would encourage you to give it a try. Don´t plan or think about it too much or you might stress yourself out and miss it even more than you actually do. Try it for a few weeks and learn how much sugar you eat, how addicted you are and how fast your taste buds can forget all about it.

AND HOW YOU CAN DO IT TOO

  • Get mad. Food companies have us under control. Kick your addiction and make yourself healthier and happier, but also to fight the industry. Let them know you’re taking back your brain.
  • Get support. It´s an addiction, work with somebody that has successfully kicked sugar addiction.
  • Need something sweet? If you are craving something sweet, go for healthier alternatives. Eat fair trade dark chocolate with a cocoa content above 70%, fruit, make some oat cookies, chia pudding, get creative and get cooking. 
  • Slowly scale it down. Slowly change your habits. If you can´t cut it in a day, try to scale it down.
  • Keep yourself busy. If you are thinking about sugar too much, it might also be because you have too much time or you want to avoid a task or two. Get up and go do something or keep your brain busy with something else. 
  • Exercise. Sugar raises serotonin and dopamine levels. Exercise can do the same thing! Try exercising when you have sugar cravings…get that rush and build a new habit around that.  
  • Don´t bring candy as gifts because the chances of them getting opened and in your mouth are pretty high. Skip unethical, plastic wrapped sweets for the sake of the planet, people you love and yourself and come up with other gifts this year. Or buy them some healthier treats. 

Oh and don´t hate me too much for giving you this challenge so close to a holiday month. Be strong and quit sugar in December. We can do it together. Just look at this cake. Yes, it can be made entirely without added sugar. 

Thanks and stay away from sweets, you are sweet enough already ;)

Mateja

*Cover design by Tomasz Majewski

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