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Is Sugar Poison? Are Carbs A Drug?

Can you live longer by giving them up?

Last week, Dr. Oz equated carbohydrates with cocaine. Last month the New York Times ran a lengthy article by Gary Taubes exploring the possible toxicity of sugar

Low-carb diets are now being recommended for people with Type 2 diabetes because they reverse the condition, thus allowing sufferers to stop medication. A study out just a few weeks ago reported on the findings that a high-fat, ketogenic diet can reverse diabetic kidney disease.

I've always been a health-news freak, but these recent developments have piqued my interest even more because of an article I wrote this week for a women's health magazine for which I also work.

It was about the science of longevity and the emerging research into living a longer, healthier life. When researchers mean live longer, they don't mean adding a year or two to the average American life expectancy of 78.7 years. They mean adding 40 years or so. 

Of course, this type of research is in its infancy because it wasn't all that long ago that something as simple as an infected cut could kill us.

The reason I'm writing a column about this is because at this point all the success stories are in the research related to food, or the lack thereof.

The first is the extreme caloric-reduction diet, which is basically undoable for a normal person for any length of time because we are not equipped to deal with long-term starvation -- especially when food is so accessible. This is the reason no one has managed to stick with it long enough to see if they live and thrive to 140 or die hungry at 70.

The second was more intriguing because it, along with a lot of other emerging research into topics having nothing to do with life extension, indicates that sugar may be worse for us than we thought. It's a small study, being done on roundworms. They normally have no sugar in their diet, but when sugar was added their life spans shrank by 20 percent.

We're not roundworms, but there's definitely a message here. It boggles the mind how much sugar we eat in a day without even realizing it. Forget cookies -- I'm talking about foods we may perceive as healthy. If you buy something in a box, bag, can, bottle or carton, you can be sure sugar has been added.

For example, Kashi GoLean Crunch cereal has 13 grams of sugar per serving. By comparison, a Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tart has 12.7 per tart. And yet, we would serve the former without a second thought because, after all, it's Kashi. A health food, right?

Sugar is added to milk to make it palatable (11 grams in a cup of nonfat). A single-serve carton of orange juice has 22 grams. The breakfast of champions? I think not, because in a related bit of recent health news, the sports world is buzzing over the amazing turnaround in performance of tennis player Novak Djokovic, who credits his recent winning streak to his newly adopted gluten-free diet. Other athletes are following his lead.

Djokovic was gluten intolerant, but a lot of the emerging research that's being reported upon by Taubes and others and explored by researchers is how the body and brain work more efficiently when fueled by fats rather than carbs.

Not that I'm touting a low-carb, Atkins-type diet, or gluten-free or high-fat. None of these health experts or researchers are advocating mindless eating of an endless rasher of bacon (well, Taubes thinks it makes no difference, read his "Good Calories, Bad Calories" and decide for yourself).

Rather, it's the idea that some foods, such as vegetables, fruits, healthy oils and fats (including saturated), lean meats and fish, have anti-inflammatory properties and therefore do not tax the immune system, and some foods, such as non-vegetable/fruit carbohydrates, do have inflammatory properties and may not be optimal for health. 

What the researchers into life extension do recommend is an anti-inflammatory diet with lots of vegetables and fruits (not juice), lean meats and fish, good fats, and some nuts and dairy. Lighten up even on the "good" non-vegetable/fruit carbs, like whole grains and brown rice. Don't give them up, just make them a smaller percentage of your diet.

Even if you think you have a healthy (read: low-fat) diet, if you lack energy or feel tired or run down, try this for a week. You may feel like you could live forever.

Recipe: Flank Steak

I have never even been tempted to give up meat, and it looks like the research is catching up with my love of lean, red meats. This is one of my family's favorite entrees, and it really could not be more quick and easy.

It does require a bit of planning. You need to put it in to marinade in the morning, but it takes only 7 or 8 minutes to cook. Serve with any vegetable -- or a vegetable and a fruit. When I'm in a hurry, I use Lawry's Sesame Ginger Marinade, which has an absolutely ridiculous 6 grams of sugar per tablespoon, but since I'm not really ingesting it, just using it to flavor and tenderize the meat, I don’t care. When I'm not in a hurry, I make my own marinade. Use what you like.

Ingredients:

  • 1 flank steak, 1 to 2 pounds, depending on how many you're feeding
  • Marinade

 Directions:

With a sharp knife, score flank steak with about 1/8 inch deep cuts in a diamond pattern (see accompanying photo). Place flank steak and marinade in a resealable plastic bag. Mush it all around to be sure the steak is covered with marinade, and then squeeze out as much air as possible. Refrigerate all day. 

At dinnertime, preheat grill to medium high heat. Remove flank steak from bag and discard bag with remaining marinade. Pat flank steak with paper towels to absorb excess marinade and keep grill from flaring up. Place on grill and grill 3 to 4 minutes per side, until at desired doneness.

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