Exercise for Your Health, But Cut Sugar to Fight Obesity

candyFor decades we’ve been told how important it is to exercise if we want to lose weight—but we may not be getting the whole story. While staying active plays an important role in disease prevention and overall health, it turns out it is not the main factor in the fight against obesity. That title is reserved for sugar, according to a new report.

The report, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, points out that sugar and carbohydrates are the biggest culprits contributing to the sharp rise in obesity among Americans and those in similarly developed countries—and that even vigorous exercise will not offset the consequences of a high-sugar diet.

To make their case, researchers called attention to the fact that while obesity rates have skyrocketed in the last 30 years, our physical activity levels have remained pretty much the same. In other words, we’re not doing anything drastically different, but we’re still getting heavier. What has changed, however, is our diet—mainly the overload of sugar-laden processed foods introduced in the last few decades. The excess sugar and carbs pose a bigger risk than alcohol, tobacco use, and a lack of exercise combined, says the report.

Study authors spotlight the need to do a better job of educating consumers about the dangers of a high-sugar diet and, if possible, eliminating the perception that we can eat whatever we want as long as we exercise enough. Once again, we are reminded that the quality of the calories we eat is just as important—if not more so—than the quantity.

The bottom line is this: the body does not need nearly as much sugar as it gets from the Standard American Diet. Still, Americans consume at least 37 teaspoons of sugar daily (including the hidden sugars from starchy carbohydrates), which studies show can alter the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut and actually cause us to hold on to excess weight. By breaking free of our sugar addiction, we may be able to turn the tables on obesity and move toward a healthier future.

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Even Low Levels of Common Toxins May Be Harmful

fillinggastankEvery day, no matter where you live or what you do, your body is exposed to small amounts of toxic chemicals—and not just from outdoor air pollution. Countless toxins make their way indoors as we come and go, but some are there already, hiding in everyday items like appliances, furniture, and toys. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) such low-level exposure is not dangerous to our health, but a new report suggests otherwise.

Researchers from the University of Colorado and the Endocrine Disruption Exchange recently examined more than three dozen studies focusing on four volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in particular: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene—commonly referred to as BTEX. In addition to their use in many consumer products, BTEX are found in gasoline and diesel fuel. The four chemicals are ever present in our environment, yet we don’t notice because they are odorless at low levels. As it turns out, those low levels may not be as safe as we thought.

In looking at the data collected, lead author Ashley Bolden and her team found that in many cases, indoor levels of BTEX were significantly higher than outdoor levels, and that even so-called “ambient levels” of these chemicals were associated with hormonal changes that can significantly impact human health. Specifically, researchers were able to link ambient level BTEX exposure to the following:

  • Developmental effects (such as low birth weight in babies);
  • Reproductive effects (such as lower sperm count and motility in males);
  • Immune system effects (including allergies and a decrease in white blood cells);
  • Effects on respiratory function (including an increased risk of asthma and pulmonary inflammation); and
  • Effects on metabolic function.

Should we be concerned? Yes, says Bolden, especially since Americans spend the majority of their time indoors. However, the solution may be as simple as improving building ventilation standards to decrease exposure and lessen the potential health risks. The report, published in a recent issue of Environmental Science & Technology, even caught the attention of officials at the EPA, who plan to review the findings.

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