By Kevin Kolodziejski
Today’s title could’ve just as easily been “Thank God for Crackpots: Part 2” since another crackpot gave me a second successive jump-start for this column.
You may remember Crackpot Number 1, 57-year-old Kevin Maginnis who’s attempting to lose 50 pounds in 100 days on a McDonald’s-only diet. His infamous folly led to my last article about how the weight loss the diet initially created is far from magic.
Take any overweight, 238-pound guy, talk him into eating half of whatever he’s been eating, and no sleight of hand is required. Whether the reduced portions come from McDonald’s or not, the guy’s going to lose weight. And pronto. But Maginnis has already said he’s only dieting this way for 100 days, so a second less-than-magical presto chango — regaining the weight and then some — is as inevitable as seeing a rabbit emerge from a top hat during a mediocre magician show.
The Story of Crackpot Number 2
Around the time you were reading about Crackpot Number 1, my father was meeting Crackpot Number 2. At the meal that followed a funeral he attended, he talked to one of the bereaved he didn’t know well. Smalltalk ensued and the guy asked about my father’s family. Soon they were discussing how serious I am about cycling — and how strict I am about my diet.
“So he’s one of those crazies who won’t eat sugar,” the guy decided. “Doesn’t he know everything you eat turns into sugar?”
My dad is 89 years old and can get things mixed up, so I asked him if he was certain that’s exactly what the guy said. Tapping a finger on his forehead and flashing a proud-of-myself smile, he said, “I knew that would really get your goat, so . . .”
So compliments of another crackpot, I’m gifted another column — even though I won’t write a word about the guy’s sadly mistaken statement that your digestive system automatically turns everything you eat into sugar. Since I’m sure you already know that’s not true, there’s no need to do so. (Though it is true when your body is in dire need of energy, it can turn just about anything except fiber into fuel — even muscle when faced with starvation.)
Being Called Crazy Gets You Thinking
Being called “one of those crazies,” though, got me thinking. I wondered if I do go a bit over the top with one piece of advice I often offer in my writings.
To abstain from eating foods containing added sugar.
Is that really necessary if you’re riding to improve your health instead of your placement in races? And had I, in my relentless pursuit of both, turned added sugar into my personal scapegoat? Then I read a Medical News Today article,” Consuming over 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day linked to stroke, depression, asthma,” the umbrella review it cites at length, and wondered no more.
Added Sugar Is Nobody’s Scapegoat
Not even mine.
An umbrella review compiles evidence from multiple existing reviews. This one, published in April 2023 by the BMJ, considered 73 meta-analyses incorporating a total of 8,601 unique articles. According to the Library Guide provided by the University of Melbourne at their website, an umbrella review is “one of the highest levels of [scientific] evidence” and a great aid in creating guidelines. And when the guideline created takes one previously issued by a well-known health organization and slashes it in half, something else gets created, too. News that you — and especially Crackpot Number 2 —need to know.
The World Health Organization recommends reducing the intake of added sugars (which they call free sugars) to below 10 percent of calories consumed a day at all stages of life. Eva De Angelis, a licensed dietitian not involved in the umbrella study, told MNT that equates to about 12 teaspoons (48 grams) of added sugar for adults and adolescents daily.
In the course of the umbrella study, the researchers detected “significant harmful associations” between added sugar consumption and 18 health problems relating to the glands and the metabolism, 10 to the cardiovascular system, and seven to certain cancers. Moreover, they found “moderate quality evidence” linking higher added sugar ingestion to higher body weight and body fat accumulation. As a result, the guidelines in their conclusion recommend limiting added sugar consumption more than the WHO does. To approximately 6 teaspoons (24 grams) per day and to limit the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to less than one serving per week “to reduce the adverse effect of sugars on health.”
Yet despite the paper’s recommendation, I will stand pat and still advise you to abstain from eating any foods containing added sugar — even though doing so is improbable.
Why Set an Improbable Goal?
Not because I’ve gone hopelessly over the top on this matter, but because you go regularly to grocery stores in your area. If you buy even a few the ultraprocessed foods offered in them, it’s really tough to limit your consumption of added sugars to 24 grams a day.
How tough? Let’s take a hypothetical trip down a typical grocery store cereal aisle and see how you can almost reach that amount by having a breakfast featuring one of the better known cereals. We’ll read the Nutrition Facts found on the panels to see how many grams of added sugars are in them, and then do some simple math. We’ll calculate how many grams of added sugars are in one and three-quarters cups of each since that amount fills a typical cereal bowl to about the two-thirds mark. It’s the amount I imagine most people really eat for breakfast — regardless of the serving size suggested on the cereal box.
And the totals from our math work: Honey Nut Cheerios, 21 grams. Multi-Grain Cheerios, 11.3 grams. Life Cinnamon, 17.5 grams. Life Original, 14 grams. Apple Jacks, 18.4 grams. Frosted Flakes, 21 grams. Raisin Bran 15.75 grams (and 29.75 grams of total sugar).
An Oatmeal Eaters’ FYI
Oatmeal eaters need to know that doing so only keeps you from added sugars if you steer clear of the single-serve instant varieties. One packet of Quaker Instant Banana & Maple, for instance, contains 9 grams of added sugar; a packet of Quaker Instant Peaches & Cream, 8 grams.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.
Barry Bogart says
I agree that sugar is a problem and I avoid it. I never drink pop or fruit juice, never cook with it. In fact, I am leaning toward Keto and avoiding carbs as well.
My problem is that I have been using Stevia in my 3 cups of coffee a day, because I thought it was a harmless ‘natural’ sugar substitute. But according to Dr. Merkin and others, there is no such thing – all sugar substitutes are also bad. So should I go back to sugar in my coffee? I hate black coffee!
I try to avoid sugar BUT advice to pack in the carbs before, during, and after a ride with the most sugary stuff imaginable contradicts everything you say here. And prevents me from losing any weight.
I doubt that the sugary stuff you eat on a ride is the cause for your difficulty in losing weight (it’s possible but highly unlikely). Halve your portions while eating the same things and the same amount of meals a day while keeping up your riding routine. You’ll see the change within the first week.