Essex column: We’re all just too darned sweet
Before giving in as a parent to the reality of our sugar-saturated culture, I told my son as a preschooler that grapes are nature’s jelly beans. I’d even buy different varieties so I could give him a bowl of grapes with some variation of color.
I was reminded of my mildly and temporarily successful parenting ploy last week when I read Dr. Greg Feinsinger’s weekly health tip, which was about fruit.
I met Feinsinger shortly after moving here in 2014. His strict vegan evangelism has enabled me to drop my cholesterol readings and my weight, even though I am not a strict adherent to his guidelines, eat an occasional burger and give in regularly to my sweet tooth. The latter is the hardest habit I’ve ever tried to change, including quitting smoking 25 years ago.
After he retired from Glenwood Medical Associates, Feinsinger proposed a series of columns focused on nutrition, which have morphed into his weekly tip. I feel like a media operation the size of the PI is lucky to have its own doc column, and I learn a lot from editing it.
For example, after reading his “Doping with veggies” column in April, I bought beet juice in an effort to boost my duathlon performance. I won my age group in a Boulder race a couple months later, fueled in part by purple fluid that honestly tastes a bit like dirt. Hey, if it reduces my perceived effort and shaves a few seconds off my race time, I’ll endure it.
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But not everything on the Feinsinger-approved list tastes bad, bringing us back to last week’s column on fruit.
Feinsinger for the past few weeks has been reviewing the “daily dozen” foods and behaviors listed by Dr. Michael Gregor in his book “How Not to Die.”
Here’s the paragraph that has lingered with me:
“Dr. Greger notes that few Americans eat the amount of fruit recommended by guidelines. He recommends three servings a day, with a serving size being one medium-sized fruit such as an apple or pear or orange; 1 cup of cut-up fruit; or ¼ cup of dried fruit.”
Feinsinger went on to list the myriad benefits of various fruits, including antioxidant effects, other cancer-fighting benefits, combating insomnia and even, in the case of watermelon, “a compound called citrulline that boosts the activity of an enzyme that works like Viagra.”
Fruit tastes good and offers a vast range of flavors. It’s full of water, so helps with hydration, and full of fiber, so it helps with digestion. It’s inexpensive and convenient (for example, bananas and citrus come with wrapping that keeps the fruit clean).
It’s even sweet.
So, knowing that it’s good for us, given that it’s mostly inexpensive and that I’ve never met anyone who says, “I don’t like fruit,” why don’t we each more?
Why do apples, peaches and bananas brought to work for colleagues to enjoy shrivel up and rot when any kind of baked good or candy — even disgusting items such as candy corn or Peeps — disappear?
Why did I leave a terrific apple on my desk yesterday, as if it were invisible, and grab a piece of the really ordinary leftover sheet cake that a reporter’s girlfriend brought in?
(I’m eating the apple as I write, having rediscovered it this morning.)
Dr. David L. Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, has wondered the same thing: “Given that food is the fuel that the human body runs on, why doesn’t the body just naturally crave the fuel that’s best for it?”
A 2008 article in Today’s Dietitian, Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of “The Flexitarian Diet,” said that while we may be born with certain taste preferences, environmental influences shift us toward certain foods. “Availability, accessibility, parental and peer consumption, exposure to foods, and habit all play a role in what foods we enjoy,” she said in the article.
People who eat the Standard American Diet of mostly processed food “lose their appreciation for this more natural, subtle fruit sweetness because they are looking for that ‘hypersweet’ taste they find in processed, refined, artificial foods.”
Part of it, too, is that we don’t know how much sugar is in how much food.
If you read ingredients in the food you buy, you’ll see that processed sugar, stripped of the nutrients that come with whole foods, is packed into almost everything on grocery store shelves, including foods with nutritious reputations, such as cereal and yogurt. So breaking the habit and retraining our tastes requires a will to do so and gaining an awareness for the insidiousness of sugar in just about everything we put in our mouths.
During that process, you might keep in mind this line from Feinsinger’s column, attributed to Gregor: “The only way you’re going to hurt yourself with fruit is if you drop a 20-pound watermelon on your foot. “
Randy Essex is publisher and editor of the Post Independent.
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