Get ahold of these staggering statistics:
- In 1820, Americans consumed less than 5 pounds of sugar per year.
- Currently we consume about 130 pounds of sugar per year.
- The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9.5 teaspoons of sugar per day (less than 1 can of soda).
- The average adult consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar per day and the average child consumes 32 teaspoons.1
Yowzers! We are out of control.
Sugar is the primary contributing factor for obesity and type 2 diabetes—both at an all time high in our country right now.2 Sugar also plays a major role in strokes, cancer, heart disease, hypertension, autoimmune disease, Alzheimer's and many more serious health conditions.3
How sugar makes us fat and sick:
- Consuming sugar (and even simple carbohydrates) causes immediate spikes in blood sugar levels.
- The pancreas releases elevated doses of insulin—the hormone that carries sugar from the blood stream into the body for use.
- Insulin, not so kindly, stores any unused calories as fat. Paradigm shift—sugar (not fat) is the main problem with weight gain.4
- Insulin released in high amounts over time leads to insulin resistance—the precursor to type 2 diabetes.5
- Sugar causes free radical damage and cellular inflammation—both recognized as underlying causes of most chronic disease.6 This is true even for those thin folks who eat sugar regularly—thin does not equal healthy.
It is a no brainer that we could cut back on sweet treats. But guess what? Sugar is hidden in the majority of packaged foods, and we often don't even realize it. We may think we are buying something nutritious when it says "natural," "heart healthy," or even "whole grain," but the ingredient label will likely reveal some form of sugar. Unfortunately, sugar can come under many guises. The following ingredients are all forms of sugar or substances that the body metabolizes just like sugar and should be treated as "code names" for sugar.
- Corn syrup
- High fructose corn syrup
- Brown rice syrup
- Brown sugar
- Crystaline fructose
- Ethyl mall
- Fruit Juice concentrates
- Malt syrup
- Raw sugar
- Oat syrup
- Rice syrup
- Turbinado sugar
- Cane sugar
- Agave nectar
- Barley malt
- Beet sugar
- Cane juice
- Evaporated can juice
- Carob syrup
- Maple syrup
- Confectioners sugar
- Rice bran syrup
- Tapioca syrup
- Potato starch
Some natural sweeteners do have benefits, but the body still experiences them as sugar. I use natural sweeteners (honey, coconut crystals, maple syrup, and dates) in my own cooking and baking at home, but I am conscious of the amount that I add. I avoid store-bought foods with these natural sweeteners since they typically contain excessive amounts.
Over 1/3 of our total sugar intake comes from sugared drinks.7 Although soda is the number one culprit, many people are surprised to learn that juice and sport drinks are no better than soda in terms of sugar content. Most orange juice has the same or similar sugar content as popular sodas.8 It is easy to think that we are nourishing our children with fruit when we give them juice—however, the fiber present when eaten in its whole form ensures a slower release of sugar to the blood stream. Without the fiber it is a straight shot of sugar.
Don't be a victim to hidden sugars causing uncontrolled weight and chronic illness in your family. Take action by reading food labels and identifying hidden sugars from the above list.
Weekly challenge: Start to read every ingredient label before you purchase a food product. Look for sugar and its aliases—avoid, or at least limit, foods with added sugar this week.
Let's chat on social: What foods or drinks have surprised you when you learned they contained added sugar? Do you need help finding alternatives?
1. Alice Walton, "How Much Sugar Are Americans Eating," Forbes, 30 August
2012, http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicewalton/2012/08/30/how-much-sugar-are-americans-eating-infographic/. Reference for all sugar statistic bullets.
2. World Health Organization, Obesity and Overweight: Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, World Health Organization, accessed 21 December 2014, http://who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/.
3. Joseph Mercola, "Research Proves Causation—Sugar Consumption Increases Risk for Chronic Disease," Mercola.com, 25 January 2015, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/01/25/sugar-increases-chronic-disease-risk.aspx
4. Mark Hyman, "Fat Does Not Make You Fat," Drhyman.com, 27 November 2013, http://drhyman.com/blog/2013/11/26/fat-make-fat/
5. Jeff Volek, et al., The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living: An Expert Guide to Making the Life-saving Benefits of Carbohydrate Restriction Sustainable and Enjoyable (Lexington, KY: Beyond Obesity, 2011).
6. Joseph Mercola, "Doctor Says: If There's a Single Marker Lifespan, This Would be Insulin Sensitivity," Mercola.com, 6 June 2012, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/06/06/eft-on-chronic-inflammation.aspx
7. Walton, "How Much Sugar Are Americans Eating."
8. Andrew Weil, "Anti-Inflammatory Health with Andrew Weil, MD," lecture, Institute for Integrative Nutrition, New York, 5 January 2015.
Sarah Kolman is the mom of three boys, a Registered Nurse, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and has a master's degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy. Her private practice as a health coach blends her experience and career as a nurse with her passion for nutrition and holistic wellness. She is the author of Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family's Whole Health in a Busy World.