george mcGovern's sugar war

George McGovern, former politician and presidential candidate passed away recently. In this picture from 1977, he was trying to alert America how we ate way too much sugar. At the time it the figure was 100 pounds a year per peson. He realized even at that time we were going in the wrong dietary direction.

According to Dr. Mehmet Oz on his ShareCare website, the average person now consumes 150 pounds of sugar per year (compared to just 7 ½ pounds consumed on average in the year 1700).

Stephen Guyenet, a doctor of neurobiology who has a research interest in obesity, notes that in 1822, we ate the amount of added sugar in one 12 ounce can of soda  (about 39 grams) once every five days, whereas today, we take in the equivalent amount every seven hours.

Incredibly, Guyenet calculated the steep upward slope of this consumption: at this rate, our diet will be 100% sugar by the year 2606 (and dentists will be in even greater demand than they are today).

Of course, there are some sugars in fruits and vegetables. These are not really the sugars we are talking about. The ones of concern are high fructose corn syrup and added sugars found in many foods.

My “Health Salad”

Yesterday my wife, 4-year daughter and I stopped at deli to pick up a quick snack on the way to an event at my daughters school. Looking at our limited options, I opted for the “health salad” and we decided to split a chicken sandwich.  Through the display case, the health salad looked like simple chopped celery, carrots, red peppers and cucumbers  in a little vinegar – looked like a healthful treat.

As I started eating it, I noticed how sweet it was –for it was not pure vinegar, it was a vinegar/sugar syrup combination, that was too sickly sweet. I thought to myself – “wow, the healthiest looking thing here is a diabetic catastrophe.”

A Taste for Bitter

I do notice with my patients that most people are repulsed by non-sweet foods. Our taste for sweet has gotten so out of hand, that anything remotely bitter or non-sweet is just plain unpalatable for many Americans.

Unfortunately, bitter foods like dandelion, kale, and black coffee are important to signal cells in our intestines that help digestion, bile flow, and control of blood sugar. Bitters help slow stomach emptying and helps us not be hungry. Replacing these bitters with the constant barrage of sweet, does the exact opposite – we get more hungry with the more sweet we take in.

To help, I often give patients a little tincture (liquid herbal mixture) of bitters like gentian, dandelion and skullcap to take a few minutes before a meal in a little water. My aim is to help the digestive signaling needed to feel full, and to help the system fully digest. My sneaky reason is to start getting my patients used to the taste of bitter, so they can learn to cultivate the taste for foods that are not so sweet. It seems to help in most cases.

George’s Lost Causes

Senator George McGovern had the reputation of being interested in ‘lost causes’ that he couldn’t win. So far, he is still losing this sugar war. Let’s see if we can help him turn it around.

how come they're happy and I'm Not - natural medicine for depression

About Dr. Bongiorno:

Peter Bongiorno ND, LAc is co-director of Inner Source Health in New York, and author of How Come They're Happy and I'm Not? The complete naturopathic guide to healing depression for good. More about him can be found through


Oz, M. ShareCare website, accessed 10-21-2012:

Rosenblum. DE. “A Life Devoted to Liberalism.” NY Times, accessed 10-21-2012

Guyenet S.  By 2606, the US Diet will be 100 Percent Sugar accessed 10-21-2012 on:

Egan J. et al.  Taste Cells of the Gut and Gastrointestinal Chemosensation. Mol Interv. 2008 April; 8(2): 78–81.

About the Author

Peter Bongiorno

Peter Bongiorno is a naturopathic doctor and the author of Healing Depression: Integrated Naturopathic and Conventional Treatments.

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