There are a lot of people in the health world who have been attacking sugar lately. I have to admit my first thought was, “Sugar? A drug? Aren’t there better things to go after?” But the truth is that it is being consumed in quantities 39% greater than what was consumed in the 1950s. Here’s what that looks like:
That’s over 150 pounds of per year. (Actually, it’s figured at 165lbs per person, per year to be precise.) Recently, the World Health Organization lowered their recommendation for allowable amounts in the diet suggesting people consume less than 5% of their total daily calories as sugar. (To provide some context a can of sugar-soda contains about 10 teaspoons.)
Sugar and any of its sweet cousins, sucrose, fructose, agave etc – whether derived from fruit or plant sources – is in everything premade and/or processed. Added sugar is found in so-called “fruit” snacks , cereals, breakfast bars, chips, breads, crackers, frozen pizza, tomato sauce, nut butters, yogurt, ketchup, mayo and pretty much every processed item in the grocery store.
Are All Sweeteners the Same?
Recent research suggests that being choosy about what kinds of sweet things we serve (and don’t serve), feed (and don’t feed) our children matters as there are some basic sweeteners that some doctors are calling killers. And they lurk within some of our most beloved snacks and treats.
According to two prominent doctors in the healthy living field, Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Robert Lustig, ingesting large quantities of processed sweets can lead directly to a host of health concerns including obesity, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimers’ disease and more.
Dr. Lustig has said that sugar is poison. Dr. Hyman has written about the myriad ways that high fructose corn syrup will kill you.
They say these sweeteners are as addictive as cocaine. To make matters worse, according to Dr. Hyman, we give these substances to our children in massive doses that haven’t ever been seen before in human history.
Watch Jamie Oliver’s TED talk and demonstration of just how much sugar is in milk — it’s a real eye opener.
So What’s a Mom To Do?
I don’t realistically expect anyone to eliminate sugar entirely from the food they eat. But it is important to recognize that we’re eating it in record amounts. To understand that it has the ability to hijack our brains and set up cravings for more and more and more. To acknowledge that consuming large amounts is a hard habit to break, one I call the sugar loop.
The only way to break the sugar loop’s vicious cycle is to learn where it is lurking in foods. Begin by reading labels; become a sugar detective. You may not taste the sugar, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Where Is It Hiding?
Sugar can be found on packaging under any of the following names: glucose, sucrose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, lactose, galactose, evaporated cane juice, agave nectar, fruit juice concentrate, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), molasses, caramel, brown sugar, brown rice syrup, honey, Barley malt, diastatic malt, tapioca syrup – and more! That list doesn’t even include the artificial sweetners such as: aspartame, acesulfame potassium, saccharin, neotame, rebiana, sucralose, and sugar alcohols.
Once identified, you can buy items without all those hidden sugars and begin to cut down the amount you’re eating in earnest. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day for men and no more than 6 teaspoons per day for women. (The average adult consumes 22 teaspoons per day.)
(Note that most diet recommendations are not concerned about the naturally occurring sugars found in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes etc.)
More easy ways to reduce your intake include drinking water or plain seltzer instead of soda or juice. Eat fruit for dessert in lieu of other options, and make sure to start your day with protein and veggies over refined carbohydrates.
Photo credit: Melissa Wiese