One day last week when I was still at the Mayo Clinic with my Dad, we were eating lunch in the cafeteria when a rather heavyset couple sat down at the other end of our table. Of course, you never know why someone is a Mayo, or even which person in a couple or group of people might be the “patient,” but wandering around you do tend to look at folks and wonder… why is she here? Is it him? All these people are suffering in some way, some more obviously than others. One day I met a woman at the hotel’s laundry machines who explained without prompting that her husband was so ill- with pancreatitis I think it was- that she couldn’t leave him in the room alone very long. As we were talking she got a cell phone call to tell her that her nephew had cancer.
Occasionally you would notice someone red-eyed and sniffling into a Kleenex as you sat down in one of the many waiting rooms… what could anyone really say? Or do? Who knows what news they may have just received? And then you see the children with parents heading to an appointment and you just pray they are here for something ridiculously benign, like an inverted hangnail.
But back to the large couple in the cafeteria. They had clearly gotten the “I’m trying to be good, or mostly good” meal: they each had purchased a large chef’s salad with a breadstick, she had added a banana and a skim milk, while he had a large diet soda and a piece of pie for dessert. I couldn’t help but wonder to myself if they wouldn’t have been better off enjoying a meal with much more fat but much less sugar/fake sugar. I mean, sugar (or the chemically fake stuff) was in the salad dressing, in the breadstick, in the diet soda and in the pie… it was freakin’ everywhere on their tray and it was as if I, through some mutant power which might qualify me to be a comic book superhero, was the only one who could see it. I idly wondered if perhaps one of them suffered from one of the many variants of metabolic syndrome, and if so, if anyone would ever offer the suggestion that they might be healthier forgoing the salad in favor of the pot roast and mashed potatoes…
Now, clearly, I’m no doctor, no nurse, and no dietitian. But it just seems to make a lot of sense to me when Dr. Robert Lustig says that we’re effectively missing the technicolor elephant in the living room when we caution people to watch their salt, watch their fat, watch their alcohol, but rarely if ever do we mention the deleterious effects of sugar, and it’s omnipresence in our contemporary diet.
But maybe, if enough of us pester our poor waitresses for ingredients and start reading the depressing labels on the foods in our supermarket, just maybe that dialogue will change. Recently my mother sent me a short article that appeared in the February 11 issue of the New Orleans Times-Picayune by dietitian Molly Kimball, entitled, “Secret Sweets: You my be surprised how many ‘healthy’ foods contain added sugar.”
In the article, Kimball notes that the “just-released 2010 Dietary Guidelines say that we should ‘significantly reduce’ our intake of added sugars… That’s because diets high in added sugar are linked not only to obesity, but also to an increased risk of high blood pressure, triglycerides, inflammation, and low levels of good HDL cholesterol.”
Yes! Thank you! Of course, the article is minuscule, basically a list of how much sugar you find in products you’d never suspect such as salad dressing, ketchup, bagels, pasta sauce and bread. Sound familiar? If she wanted to she could’ve added to her list: chicken broth, mayonnaise, breakfast cereal, dried fruit, english muffins, pita bread, coleslaw, virtually every sauce known to man…
You and I know the list goes on and on. In fact it’s long enough to make one suspect Dr. Robert Lustig may be onto something when he observes that as fat consumption has gone down, obesity, type two diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke have- nonetheless- gone up. In his YouTube lecture that I’m going to keep referencing until you break down and finally go watch it, “Sugar the Bitter Truth” he states it as plain as can be: “It’s not the fat, people. It’s not the fat.”
I wished, somehow, I could have communicated that to our table mates that day, and saved them from who knows how many bad salads, not to mention a lifetime of trying to be “good” and wondering why it still isn’t working.