‘Sugar is the white plague!” declares Tosca Reno, author of the Strike Sugar e-book and the best-selling Eat Clean diet book series. I recently interviewed Tosca to find out more about her take on sugar. I’ve followed her for years on social media, but it was her latest series of tweets and blog entries specifically about the negative effects of sugar that motivated me to look more closely at the risks of this ubiquitous ingredient and to review my own sugar consumption.
Tosca says the purpose of her 30-day Strike Sugar challenge is to “reteach ourselves and our bodies how to run on better foods.”
It’s obvious that cake, candy, soda and ice cream contain sugar (or sugar substitutes), but most of our sugar consumption comes in a hidden form – often under various names – in processed products such as pasta sauce, soup, salad dressing, yogurt, cereal, bread, peanut butter, granola bars and ketchup.
It’s difficult for the average consumer to decipher ingredient listings and nutritional labels or to know how much sugar is too much. Health Canada doesn’t have specific recommendations for daily sugar consumption. The Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation’s recommendation is a daily maximum of six teaspoons of sugar for women and nine for men. The World Health Organization recommends we limit our “free” sugar intake to less than 10 per cent of our daily calories, or 12 teaspoons based on an average 2000-calorie diet. “Free” sugar refers to any sugar added to food or beverage by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugar naturally present in honey, syrup and fruit juice.
I asked Tosca what amount of sugar she feels is acceptable. Because sugar has no nutritional value, she believes we should “endeavour to remove all such ‘anti-foods’ from our diets – foods rich in “the deadly sugar bullet.” She notes those kinds of foods rob us of important nutrients, get stored as fat, and cause insulin deregulation.
“Sugar is our curse. We’ve been seduced by it and addicted to it. It’s everywhere. It should be labelled as a dangerous drug,” said Tosca.
There’s an undeniable amount of scientific evidence linking high sugar consumption with weight gain, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, dental decay, heart disease and, according to the Canadian Cancer Society, to several types of cancer such as breast, colon and uterine. The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia appears to be increased by conditions that damage the heart or blood vessels, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that high sugar consumption is a contributing factor, directly or indirectly, in many non-communicable diseases. Tosca, a nutritional therapy practitioner, says medical doctors receive minimal training on nutrition and are not equipped to provide dietary counselling to patients.
Tosca is the picture of fitness and health, but she can relate to those who are struggling with health and weight issues. Before changing her lifestyle in her 40s, Tosca weighed more than 200 pounds. She was addicted to sugar and other simple carbohydrates. She admits she had no knowledge about what she was doing to herself by eating poorly. Her health suffered until she made a commitment to change. After her personal transformation, she became passionate about helping others live healthier lives.
What about people who feel they can’t change or that eliminating sugar from their diet would be too difficult? Tosca says the more addicted or overweight you are, or the more health issues you have, the more urgently you need care. She feels the time is right to focus on sugar because, when she asks clients what’s the one food they cannot live without, they inevitably identify something sugar based. Tosca recommends we step back from dieting and start with kicking the sugar habit. In addition, she urges us to stop eating all refined foods that are stripped of their nutrients and fibre. She says we need to be better educated so we can make healthier choices. Tosca promises that, by striking sugar, we’ll reap the rewards including better health, weight loss, more energy, better sleep and better sex.
Will the latest evidence against sugar convince people to change their eating habits or at least start thinking differently?
“The tide is turning. We have to ask questions,” Tosca said. “We’ve been duped. We need to vote for our health. Let’s turn this thing around.”