Hannah’s Reflection

What interests me about food is the effect of food on society, the economy, and the environment.  I look at food as a part of the greater human connection to other people and the planet.  At MadSciMag, I saw some very interesting scientific videos and blogs that taught me about the importance of presenting science in a way that is funny, artistic, and sensually engaging.  I hope to present my own scientific research in this way.

People are hesitant about citing overeating as a cause of diabetes.  People feel offended by accusations that their medical problems may the fault to their diet ,especially in the weight sensitive American society.  However, overeating is not the same as being overweight although one can lead to the other.  It is possible to be skinny and still overeat.  Overeating is eating more food than is good for your body, or eating a disproportionate amount of certain foods, specifically sugar in the case of diabetes.  In the human body, when blood sugar is too high, a hormone called insulin is released, triggering the body cells to absorb the extra sugar.  Genetic causes are significant in triggering diabetes, especially Type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune response.  However, Type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance.  Insulin is a drug that specifically affects your body, and resistance to a drug comes from  being exposed to so much of that drug that it no longer affects you.  That suggests that it is possible to consume so much sugar that you make enough insulin to become resistant to it.  According to the American Heart Association, for a 2,000 calorie a day diet 35g or 9 teaspoons of sugar a day is the health amount to eat.  Most Americans eat 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, more than twice the recommended amount.  Though it not always right to blame people’s medical problems on their lifestyles, diabetes is clearly one of many problems caused by a health diet.

Emily’s Reflection

What interests me about the topic of food is unveiling lies in advertising and letting people know ways to eat food that’s better for you. I also wonder why is there science in food at all… not that there isn’t science naturally in everything, but that there is a science to food production. People alter food so it’s not just natural anymore. It’s more synthetic. It’s more altered by humans. We are getting away from what we’re supposed to eat naturally, and that’s not healthy. And people deserve to know what they’re eating. Today I learned about blogging, and about communicating science. I want to communicate science to the public in an interesting way, not in a boring way. I want to communicate it in a way that makes it easy to connect to and is interesting. After all, science is essentially the study of how stuff works… shouldn’t that be interesting? Wouldn’t you like to know everything? So my goal is to communicate it in a way that makes people want to think, and not in a way that  makes them feel forced to think.

My favorite forms of media communication would probably be videos and blogs. I like videos the best, they’re fun and you can do a lot with them. Blogs you can do a lot with, if you’re not required to follow a technical layout. I want to educate anyone from my age to adults. Teenagers can understand a lot, even if they don’t get credit for it, but I would also want to target an adult audience. I WANT TO EXPOSE MISLEADINGS!

In my own presentations, along with informing people, I want to show people opportunities that are easily accessible to them because I think that one of the best ways to implement change is to show other people how they can change things without making a huge commitment.

Rabia’s Reflection

I learned that diabetes affects every part of your body. I also learned that the drinks that we think are healthy, because they have no fat, are actually really unhealthy because they contain a lot of sugar. Also, on a daily basis people drinks at least 2 sodas a day which is really bad for their health. And we should be careful while we are eating: instead of drinking and eating unhealthy we should try to eat more healthy foods, like vegetables, milk, juices, and fruits.

Zenia’s Reflection

Fruit contains fructose, but as any food pyramid or suggested intake ratios will tell you, fruit is okay. How is that possible if fructose is almost always bad? This is because fruit, in its natural form, contains fiber. Fructose doesn’t provide a satiety alert to let your brain know to tell you to stop eating, but fiber does this to a high degree. This is why you can eat fruit—despite the fructose content—without experiencing the same problems as, say, drinking a sugary soda. This is why fruit can actually be beneficial. The same goes for processed sugar. Sugar doesn’t exist naturally as sparkly white crystals, but as a really tough stick called sugar cane. It isn’t until you process the sugar cane that you lose all the fiber it contains. Without the fiber, you only have the tasty but problematic part of the original food. That’s why processed sugars can cause problems.

Sweet on Sweets

Leading scientists investigate the addictive properties of sugar

By Hannah Gibson

Sugary foods and beverages are frequently marketed as if they had addictive qualities, especially in advertising geared toward children. Many of us remember the “Cocoa Puffs” commercials, in which Sonny the Cuckoo bird tries all sorts of crazy schemes to stop eating Cocoa Puffs; he inevitably gets jittery, sees Cocoa Puffs everywhere, and starts screaming “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!” Advertisements often feature phrases like “Too good to resist.” An Australian cereal made of chocolate filled squares even has the name “Krave.”

The average American child consumes one or more soda or soft drink per day, which provides 10% of their daily calorie intake. In an interview this year with Radio Boston, Kelly Brownell, Director of Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, stated that sugary soft drinks are especially damaging to health because our bodies do not recognize them as food. Instead, the sugar in the drink acts like a drug and triggers an addictive process.

It’s hard to say whether sugar actually is an addictive substance, since it is unclear what an addiction actually is. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines chemical addiction, or dependence, as a “compulsive physiological and psychological need for a habit-forming substance.” Certain physical and psychological signs separate true chemical dependence from habitual enjoyment of a substance or activity. According to the American Psychiatric Organization, addiction is characterized by three behaviors: binging (consuming large amounts of food in a small amount of time after a period of abstinence), withdrawal (depression and anxiety if the substance is not available), and cravings. The cravings increase the longer the substance is not available.

Rochelle Schwarts-Bloom, a professor at the Duke University Medical center, explains that addictive drugs affect the brain by triggering the release of chemical neurotransmitters, which create a “high.”

There is evidence that sugar has addictive properties; a team of Princeton University psychologists, lead by Dr. Bart Hoebel, produced in rats the behaviors and brain chemistry of addiction. The rats were divided into four groups. The experimental group was given access to feed and sugar for 12 hours then deprived of both for 12 hours. Hoebel also set up three control groups. One group had access to sugar and feed at all times, one had access to only feed at all times, and one had access to only feed in 12 hour periods. The rats in the control groups displayed no signs of addiction, but the group on the 12-hour on, 12-hour off sugar and feed schedule did. Rats in the experimental group that were later denied sugar for 24 hours tended to binge, exhibit withdrawal symptoms—like tremors and anxiety—and display behaviors consistent with craving; this response was similar to rats on morphine or cocaine. Hoebel and his team also found that sugar consumption triggered the release of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, in the rat’s brains. Addictive drugs like morphine and cocaine trigger a similar response, suggesting an addictive quality to sugar.

Other researchers, like University of Swansea neuroscientist David Benton, have criticized Hoebel’s work, pointing out that a huge variety of actions and substances trigger a release of dopamine in the brain. Sure, sugar and cocaine stimulate release of neurotransmitters, but so do music, humor, winning a prize, familiar faces, attractive faces, smiling faces, and being in love. Clearly, the release of dopamine isn’t sufficient evidence of addiction! Further, rats on the alternating sugar and feed schedule showed the neurological and behavioral signs of addiction, but the rats with constant access to sugar did not. This suggests that perhaps sugar is not an addictive substance, like heroin or cocaine, but that addiction to sugar may occur if it’s eaten in a period of binging followed by long periods of restraint.

Even if Americans are not clinically “addicted” to sugar, they are definitely eating way too much of it. The average American eats 64 pounds of sugar a year; that’s about 124 grams (31 teaspoons) of sugar per day, which is more than three times the recommended amount. The American Heart Association recommends that a person following a 2,000-calorie a day diet consume 36 grams (9 teaspoons) of sugar daily. There are many health conditions linked to a diet too high in sugar, including an increased risk for heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, gout, hypertension, gum disease, tooth decay, obesity, and the substance potentially has addictive properties.

There has been a push in recent years to limit the amount of sugar in packaged food. Many parents are concerned about the aggressive marketing of sugary, unhealthy foods and beverages to children and are trying to limit their sale in school cafeterias. In their article “The Toxic Truth About Sugar,” Robert Lustig, Laura A. Schidt and Claire D. Brindis advocate for regulations and a tax on sugary products. In May, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a ban on oversized sugary beverages. Recently in Massachusetts, a legislative attempt to end the sales tax exemption for soda failed; the exemption makes it easier to for sodas to be cheaper. In some places soda can be cheaper than water.

According to Ashley Geardherdt, a researcher at Yale University, sugar is minimally regulated, and food companies receive subsidies form the federal government, making it possible for them to produce extremely sugary foods. Geardherdt is concerned about the rapid increase in the amount of sugar in the American diet and feels that “although much research needs to be done, the evidence that sugar can trigger an addictive process is impressive and convincing, is definitely a public health issue.”

While it is still unclear if sugar is addictive, there is enough evidence to suggest that foods too high in sugar do present public health risks. Shedding light on the dangerous aspects of sugar through research and education will help address the issue of sugar as a national health risk.

Hannah is a Science Club for Girls Media Team member and high school student in Cambridge, MA. See Hannah’s article on Huffington Post and spread the word!