Nurture or Nature – why do we keep eating so much sugar???

Based on national survey data analyses, grainbased
desserts account for a greater proportion of
daily calories than any other food group in people
age 2 and older USDA’s National “What we eat in America” Survey results; just published

I am still baffled when I read statements like the one above.  It just doesn’t compute.  We are still eating far too much sugar, refined grain, and just ‘too much’ in general despite the major public health, private diet industry, personal advocate, and other efforts being made to stop us from eating the foods that make us sick.

Why does this great paradox exist whereby we may *know* that eating certain foods can have ill effects later on, but we do it anyway?

The Nature argument:
Some hints as to our biological drive to eat sweets might come from the latest 60-minutes broadcasts, which highlights the impact of sugar on our brains and bodies.

Further, my husband (who studies stress and eating via fMRI and other tools), has learned through is work and the work of others, that for some people the following scenario occurs (also seen in people who smoke a lot of pot, do other drugs, or otherwise have impaired frontal lobe executive function)

Even when an individual can indicate on a survey or interview that they know a behavior is “bad” for them and know the consequences, they are incapable of choosing otherwise when actually in the midst of the choice.  This may explain some of the compulsion behind binge eating.

Biologically, we are wired to seek and hunt sugar, as it is a concentrated energy source that is rare in nature.  The same is true for fat.

But, can you think of ONE food that is naturally occurring which is both high is sugar and fat, like most sweet treats can be?  How about one (aside from honey) that is just pure sugar? Even sugar cane has to be processed to get the sugar out from the fiberous cane plant.  Even both honey and pure sugar cane have trace minerals in them in addition to calories.

We have created “superfoods” that are so potent they go right to the pleasure centers of the brain in ways that our biology just cannot handle.  They have the ability to make us override our sense of fullness/hunger, long-term goals (if I eat this today, I might gain weight/have  diabetes later), and they may have long term impact on our brain’s ability to make good food decisions in the future.

The Nurture argument:
We are a produce of our environment.  Think about your commute to work.  Between commercials on TV/Radio, billboards, magazines, internet ads, seeing fast-food or other food establishment signs…how many cues to eat do you see every day just by doing what you do?  

How about the food environment around gatherings/celebrations.  Would you have a birthday dinner that served just a simple, low-calorie meal?  Maybe, but probably not.  How many times a day/month/year are we encouraged to ‘treat ourselves’?

How about the fact that, in many cases, we are not taught how to cook from our families and certainly not from our schools.  When the norm is to get drive-through food on a busy day, how habituated are we to those familiar habits?

Again  I am going to advocate for each and every one of you to take a mindful, honest look at your food behaviors, values, beliefs and attitudes.  Do they work for your goals?  Would you rather spend 10% more of your income on better food today or MUCH MORE in the future on health care?   Does your personal food environment match your desired food values?  Have you had a conversation about such matters with those in your life that you eat with regularly?

We can’t begin to change the “big”Environment if we don’t start with the personal environment.  We can’t change the personal environment if we aren’t willing to look at ourselves honestly and find willingness to explore a healthier, saner way want navigate our food journey.