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Monday, April 21, 2014

How little is enough?

By Pablo Toledo
For the Herald

Year of No Sugar reads like a how-to manual for an eating disorder

Year of No Sugar is one of those book titles that succinctly (1) tells you exactly what to expect beneath (2) the cover. Eve O. Schaub became convinced in 2010 that fructose — the simple carbohydrate that makes sugar sweet — was toxic after watching a lecture by childhood obesity researcher Robert Lustig. She decided that she, her husband and her two daughters should swear off (3) added fructose in all its forms (sugar, honey, juice, etc.) for the duration of 2011, and that she should blog about it; the blog resulted in a book deal.

There are many good reasons to reduce or eliminate added sugars from your diet: sugar consumption is associated with diabetes and heart disease, and research indicates that sugar messes with your body's hunger and satiety cues in a way other foods don't. Sugar may indeed be toxic at a certain level of consumption — the dose makes the poison, as the adage goes — though it's not yet clear what that level is. Lustig (and Schaub) liken (4) its long-term effects to those of alcohol, a substance that healthy people have been known to use in moderation.

Moderation, though, does not get you a book deal. Year of No Sugar reads like a how-to manual for an eating disorder. Schaub becomes obsessed with eliminating trace quantities of fructose from her diet. She finds herself thinking about food more or less constantly and finds that her project drives a wedge (5) between her family and the community.

For a project that stems from (6) such a good idea — eat less sugar — Year of No Sugar comes across as a maddeningly arbitrary yet worryingly fanatical exercise in self-control. In Schaub's world, a hyper-controlling attitude toward food isn't a reason for concern; it's a completely normal trait. And cutting out fructose entirely seems to her not an unrealistic fantasy, but a magical solution to every conceivable health problem.

Year of No Sugar makes much of the fact that sugar is in practically everything, and that it's easy to be oblivious to its ubiquity in American (*) life, but it buys into one crucial American (*) myth: that there is one weird trick somewhere out there that will make you healthy, skinny and happy. Leave it to an American (*) to take astute sociological and medical observations — that the proportion of sugar in the average American (*) diet has increased over the past few decades, that sugar intake has been shown to correlate with chronic diseases, that sugar is increasingly added to processed foods that don't primarily taste sweet — and turn it into a diet plan. If there's one thing we're more addicted to than sugar, it's purported silver bullets. Schaub has drunk that proverbial Kool-Aid, even if she's avoiding the literal kind.

Adapted from a story by L.V. Anderson for Slate.

Succinctly (1)
When you say something succinctly, you say it clearly and in a few words.

Beneath (2)
When something is beneath an object, it is directly under it (fully or partially covered). It is also used to talk about things which are literally or metaphorically at a lower level / rank than something else.

Swear off (3)
When you swear off something, you promise you will not do or use it again.

Liken (4)
To liken two things means to compare them.

To drive a wedge (5)
A wedge is a triangular piece of metal, wood, etc. that you use for holding doors open, open pieces of wood, etc. When you drive a wedge between two people, you do something to keep them apart or create a conflict between them.

To stem from (6)
The stem of a plant is the long, thin part that leaves or flowers grow from. To stem from something means to be the result of that thing.

An American controversy (*)

The Herald is unique in many ways. One of them is that we are among the media that still refuses to use “American” to describe things or people from the United States of America. We use “US” or “US citizen” as a replacement, and “American” as a reference to the continent between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego.

Languages around the world are on the fence about whether to accept the US's insistence on appropriating the word. Spanish, for instance, has the word estadounidense, and yet you hear people use americano with that meaning in imitation of US English.

There are suggested alternatives, yet none of them have been adopted to any significant degree. “United-Statesian” seems to be the preferred word. Runner-ups include Columbian, Columbard, Unisian, Usonian, Colonican, USian, Uessian, U-S-ian, Uesican and United Stater – none of them very appealing, I'm afraid!

@destierrado

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