I'll never forget the fall of 2014, where I almost lost one of the most meaningful people in my life.I was out to dinner one night, when I get a message from my cousin:
‘Hi Brian, I am at Credit Valley Hospital with your parents. Your dad had a heart attack yesterday after mowing the lawn. They are keeping him for observation’
There I was, staring at the words as if they would magically unscramble to a different message with a happier ending.
When I learned that he needed a triple bypass...I had never felt so afraid in my life. Losing my dad was a possibility. There was so much that I wanted to tell him, so many hugs that I meant to give him...and I wasn’t sure if I was going to get a chance to do so.
After a few prayers and some dedicated medical staff, my father has recovered well from the surgery...and over the last 2 years, I have tried to take every moment to get to know my dad.
My dad grew up in China during the war. Food was scarce. He would have to eat when food was available...so each meal, he had to eat as much as he could because he didn’t know when he was going to eat again. After the war, he moved to Trinidad, started our family and then moved to Canada. Although we lived a modest life, we were surrounded by excess...fast food, frozen meals, snacks, drinks. Imagine he was programmed to maximize food intake for survival, and now in a culture of excess there was no end to the food. Every meal was served on a plate full of white rice and accompanied by a pitcher of orange juice. We used fluffy pillowy white bread for lunches, and cookies and crackers were a staple.
He quit smoking. He tried to eat ‘healthy’ by eating less fat. He also tried to cook at home with less salt. So, why did my father have a triple bypass despite being so diligent about his diet?
Recent science on heart disease has now pointed to another overlooked piece of puzzle...SUGAR
In addition to the obvious sugary treats, we know NOW that refined carbohydrates such as white breads and white rice dramatically raises blood sugar levels (known as having a high glycemic index). Unlike whole grains and brown rice, refined carbs are so finely processed that they absorb faster and get converted to sugars more quickly in our body. So, tonight when I speak of SUGAR, let’s expand this to include all carbs that cause a spike in blood sugar levels...white bread, white rice, sports drinks, cookies, pastries, and chips, ...even whole wheat flour products).
Sugars are everywhere. Some are found naturally in fruits, vegetables, starches, grains, milk and most plant based foods...these are called the ‘natural sugars’. These are better for us because they are also accompanied by fibre and essential vitamins.
The other sources of sugars in our diet are those that are added during the processing and preparation of our food...these also include sugars from honey, syrups and fruit juices. Added sugars give our packaged foods their appealing golden brown colour, that memorable crunch or their addictive ‘betcha can't just eat one’ taste.
I recommend reading the book Salt Sugar Fat - How Food Giants Hooked Us (by Michael Moss). He uncovers the deceptive efforts of the food industry to make foods more addictive...to find the precise amount of sweetness that makes food/drink most desirable (aka ‘Bliss Point’). After reading a few pages, you will never look at food labels the same way.
As a dentist, I’ve been telling people that sugar is bad for you…I suppose now I can consider myself a ‘visionary’. Sugar is not only responsible for dental decay, but also contributes to increasing rates of obesity, type II diabetes, liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer...and heart disease. So much convincing evidence has been found in sugar’s role in heart disease that the WHO, the American Heart Association, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation have released statements strongly urging us to start slashing the sugars we eat. So, here are 5 tips to help us start slashing sugar and reduce our risk of heart disease.
5 Tips for Gaining Control of the Sugar Binge for Improved Health
AVOID SUGARY DRINKS
-substitute with carbonated water, tea, or sweeten with xylitol
BE A LABEL DETECTIVE
-Count sugar grams (beware alternative names of sugar)
-Avoid low fat foods - replace fat with more salt and sugar
- 30 min walk each day can reduce stress, control blood sugar and cravings
EAT MORE FIBRE - 25-30 g /day
-These foods are rich in vitamins and antioxidants; keeps you feeling full longer
COOK AT HOME
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT! I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL CONTINUE TO CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO AND CONVINCE GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS TO TAKE ACTION ON MORE TRANSPARENT AND CONSISTENT FOOD LABELLING. I BELIEVE THAT CHOOSING A MORE ACTIVE LIFESTYLE AND MAKING MORE INFORMED CHOICES ABOUT THE FOODS WE EAT WILL REDUCE THE BURDEN ON OUR HEALTHCARE SYSTEM.
LET’S PROMISE ONE ANOTHER, TO BREAK UP WITH SUGAR!