Sugar Tax?

This image was taken from Nature. 2012 Feb 1;482(7383):27-9. doi: 10.1038/482027a

Exactly 2 years ago today, I moved to Boston to start a job as a cancer researcher at one of the major hospitals located in the Longwood Medical area. As I drank my cup of perfectly brewed coffee (thanks SB!), I began to reflect on my time here. Not surprisingly, I came to the conclusion that much of what I have learned stems from conversations that I’ve had with my brilliant lab mates. A second realization, however, was that I have also learned a great deal from a more unexpected source…talk radio. “WBUR”, Boston’s NPR station, literally plays all day, every day in my laboratory. While at times this makes me feel like driving pencils into my ears, today was different.

While doing my DNA minipreps, an interesting piece called “Regulating Sugar” (hosted by Tom Ashbrook with guests Mark Bittman and Robert Lustig) caught my attention. As I was listening, it became apparent that the sugar crisis has become a national problem and is starting to make headlines. I thought it was only fair to bring the highlights of this report to my audience who are “Living sain” in a sugar-laced world.

  • Sugar dominantes all of our other taste centers on our tongue (sour, salt, bitter and umami). The food industry has used this biological phenomena to increase their annual profit 5-fold, by pumping processed foods with excess sugar.
  • Excess sugar consumption has been linked to multiple diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, etc. and is a major contributor to the 147 billion dollars spent per year in health care-related costs.
  • In 2003, the World Health Organization initiated a technical report, which revealed that sugar is a causative agent to the diseases listed above. Public release of this report was prohibited by members of our government.
  • Most people are consuming up to 22 teaspoons of “added-sugar” a day. “Added-sugar” refers to the amount of non-native sugar that is added to food to make it taste sweeter. The recommended level of “added-sugar” is 9 teaspoons for men and 6 for women per day.
  • Companies have 48 names for different types of sugar. Since ingredients are listed in order of their mass percentage, it is hypothetically possible that ingredients 5, 6 and 7 are all different types of sugar and that when added up result in sugar being the 1st or second-highest ingredient. Sneaky bastards…

Should sugar, like tobacco and alcohol, be regulated or taxed by our government?

I think it’s disappointing that the food industry’s marketing tricks have worked so well, and that we as a nation take very little time to study a label or read about how what we put into our body affects our energy and performance. One example that the hosts discuss and I’ve taken a bit further is the low-fat greek yogurt craze. Every time I’m at the grocery store I see countless, yoga pant-ladened people piling their carts full of low-fat flavored yogurt, but if you look closely at the the labels…do they add up?

I did some quick research:

8 oz plain, 0% fat greek-yogurt: 9g of sugar

8 oz plain, 0% fat greek yogurt + 1/8 cup fresh blueberries: 11g sugar

8 oz plain, 0% fat blueberry-flavored greek yogurt: 16g sugar

…an extra 5g of sugar is hidden in there.

What do you think should be done?


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