Treat or Treat, No Tricks
By Anna Sachse
When I was a kid, I rated my love for holidays based on how much candy they could net me. Easter came in number three. Christmas got number two. And the number one spot went to the biggest, baddest candy-fest of all—Halloween. I also liked dressing up as a fairy or a gypsy or a cow, but my true love for this holiday had everything to do with little bags of Peanut M&Ms and snack-size Snickers bars.
I blame my parents. When I was growing up, they were health food fanatics who rarely had white sugar in the house. As a consequence, I developed a fiendish desire for all things sweet, the more refined the better. As I’ve gotten older and wiser about my health, I’ve been able to rein in those urges a bit, but I’ve also managed, conveniently, to maintain the philosophy that eating anything is okay in moderation. As that most devilish of holidays rolls around once again, I find myself wondering if this is actually true, or if I’m just lying to myself so that I can stuff my face with Skittles. What’s the real nitty-gritty on those little white granules I love so much?
First of all, your body actually needs sugar, in the form of glucose, for energy and brain function. When you eat carbohydrates they are transformed into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream. As the glucose level rises, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin to move the sugar into the cells where it can be used as a source of energy. This process occurs more quickly with simple carbohydrates, such as white sugar. To this end, athletes often rely on refined simple sugars, like Gatorade, because it gives them quick energy for a short amount of time. (The rest of us do better when we stick to complex carbs, like whole grains, that provide sustained energy over longer periods of time.)
Refined sugar is everywhere nowadays, from cereal to tomato sauce, in addition to all the obvious tasty treats. The U.S. is the largest consumer of sugars, including refined cane and beet sugars, corn sweeteners and edible syrups, and is one of the largest global sugar importers. Its prevalence has been linked to the exponential rise in obesity and diagnoses of Type II Diabetes, especially among children. According to a USDA report released in March, Americans on a 2,000-calorie-per-day average diet should limit their intake of added sugars to eight teaspoons per day. However, according to the USDA’s research, Americans consumed 30 teaspoons (or 450 calories) of added sugars per person per day in 2005—triple the amount recommended.
But while it’s important to consider the fact that refined sugars contain nothing beneficial in terms of vitamins or nutrients, it’s not actually the sugar itself that makes you fat. Oinking out on it makes you fat. Similarly, it’s a myth that eating sugar directly causes Type 2 Diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association; once again, the culprit is simply eating too much and being overweight. There are plenty of health nuts out there that will tell you that sugar is responsible for depression or cancer, but research don’t confirm that—yet.
In the meantime, it appears that I am right and it’s okay to enjoy a moderate portion of the sweet life (like one “Fun Size” Snickers for 72 calories, instead of 10 for 720), so this Halloween, don’t be surprised if you see a 5’8”, 31-year-old named Anna dressed up as a gypsy knocking at your door and holding up her plastic pumpkin bucket, commanding you to fill ‘er up.