I’m sure it’s no secret to anyone reading this that sugar consumption has risen in the last few decades, and that many experts have connected this trend to major public health issues and health costs in the US and other countries. But here’s the conundrum: in the face of such overwhelming data, why does this trend continue? In my experience, it’s easy for many of us to dismiss sugar concerns as not being relevant for us. This seems to come down to a combination of clever marketing from the food industry that masks the true sugar content of what we are eating, as well as thoughts of “well, everyone else is doing it too, so it can’t be that dangerous.” Nothing could be farther from the truth.
To briefly reiterate some of the well-circulated facts about sugar: Consumption of added sugars has risen from 6.3 pounds per capita in 1822 to 107.7 pounds per capita annually in 1999. As obesity-researcher, Stephan Guyenet PhD, explains, this means that the amount of sugar that used to be consumed across five days, is now consumed every seven hours.
Source: Whole Health Source. http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2012/02/by-2606-us-diet-will-be-100-percent.html. Based on USDA, NHANES, and US Department of Commerce data.
Everyone’s Doing It—What’s the big deal?
Here are some of the potential detrimental effects of consuming excessive amounts of sugar, especially fructose, which forms 50% of table sugar:
- ADHD symptoms: inattentiveness and hyperactivity 
- Insulin resistance and type II diabetes 
- Cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease , 
- Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis 
- High blood pressure  – Dr. Fitzgerald has written about this before.
- Weight gain and obesity 
- Elevated triglycerides 
- Fatty liver , 
- Cancer 
Uncovering hidden sources of sugar in your diet
Unless you’re a nerdy label reader (guilty!), it can be quite easy to miss where all that sugar is coming from. But it pays to look more closely. Added sugars are in most processed foods these days, not just candies and pastries: salad dressings, sauces, beverages, canned beans, soups, breads, prepared/frozen meals, yogurts, and more. Although they are all problematic, one of the most troublesome sources of added sugar are sugar sweetened beverages. Not only do they contain astronomical amounts of sweeteners (over 9 teaspoons in a 12-oz can of Coke!!), but they can also be consumed and absorbed very quickly, worsening our blood sugar spike. Furthermore, they are very enticing to children and adolescents who are the age group with the highest consumption of sodas and other sweetened beverages.
Reading the labels for sugar content of apple juice, for instance can be rather enlightening:
|Brand of Juice Box||How many grams of sugar per serving?||How many teaspoons is that?|
|Sensible Sippers Apple Juice||6||1.50|
|Trader Joe’s Reduced Calorie Apple Juice||11||2.75|
|Earth’s Best Apple Juice for Tots||13||3.25|
|Minute Maid Apple Juice||19||4.75|
|Motts 100% Pure Apple Juice||24||6.00|
(Values taken from packets/manufacturer websites Jan 2015)
Be in the know
- The grams of sugar is always listed on the Nutrition Facts label. You can figure out how many teaspoons using 4 grams = 1 teaspoon sugar.
- Sugar on food labels has many guises: Barley malt, Beet sugar, Brown sugar, Buttered syrup, Cane juice crystals, Cane sugar, Caramel, Corn syrup, Corn syrup solids, Confectioner’s sugar, Carob syrup, Castor sugar, Date sugar, Demerara sugar, Dextran, Dextrose, Diastatic malt, Diatase, Ethyl maltol, Florida crystals, Fructose, Fruit juice, Fruit juice concentrate, Galactose, Glucose, Glucose solids, Golden sugar, Golden syrup, Grape sugar, High-fructose corn syrup, Honey, Icing sugar, Invert sugar, Lactose, Maltodextrin, Maltose, Malt syrup, Maple syrup, Molasses, Muscovado sugar, Panocha, Raw sugar, Refiner’s syrup, Rice syrup, Sorghum syrup, Sucrose, Sugar, Treacle, Turbinado sugar, Yellow sugar
- Keep your intake of added sugar as low as possible, or avoid altogether. Eliminating processed foods will go a long way towards cutting out most added sugars. Beware of low-fat products (which often have high levels of added sugar to make them palatable).
- Naturally-occurring sugars from whole grains and whole fruits are fine in moderation for many people. Combining carbohydrate intake with healthy fats, clean proteins, and fiber will slow absorption.
- Having trouble staying away from sugar? Sugar addiction is real! Look out for an upcoming post on sugar addiction and help with giving it the boot.
Now we’d like to hear from you. Do you struggle with a sugar addiction? How have you kicked the habit?
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