Amy Ziff’s take on sugar…
Is sugar really a drug? Can we actually be addicted to it? Are you? And how about your kids? Those are frightening thoughts.
There are a lot of people in the health world who have been attacking sugars 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’s being consumed in quantities 39% greater than what was consumed in the 1950s. Here’s what that looks like:
That’s over 150 pounds per year. (Actually, it’s figured at 165lbs of sugar per person, per year to be precise.) Recently, the World Health Organization lowered their recommendation for allowable amounts of sugars in the diet suggesting people consume less than 5% of their total daily calories as sugar. (To provide some context a can of soda contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar.)
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 sugars are 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.
Recent research suggests that being choosy about what kinds of sugars 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, Alzheimer’s 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 sugars entirely from the foods 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 sugar. To acknowledge that consuming large amounts of it 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 detective. You may not taste the sweetness, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Sugars 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.
For a more complete list of names for sugars read here.
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 sugars per day for men and no more than 6 teaspoons per day for women. (The average adult consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar per day.)
(Note that most diet recommendations are not concerned about the naturally occurring sugars found in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes etc.)
Another trick to figuring out just how much sugar is actually inside your items is to use the nutrition label. Identify the Total Grams of Sugar in your product. Then divide that number by four. (Every teaspoon contains 4 grams of sugar.) This easy conversion helps you understand how much sugar is actually in your snack/cookie/yogurt—whatever–in an amount you can easily track for your total consumption.
More easy ways to reduce your intake is to drink 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.
To learn more ways to incorporate healthier choices into your lifestyle signup for emails at amyziff.com.
Photo credit: Melissa Wiese