I’d like to begin by saying I am NOT a sugar-hating fanatic. I’m known in my house as a chocoholic and a day rarely goes by that I don’t indulge in some delicious chocolate. But as a wellness professional I am well aware of the sugar addiction epidemic that we are currently experiencing. Sugar is frequently in the headlines and is often described as toxic.
The average American consumes about 152 pounds of sugar a year. That’s roughly 22 teaspoons every day for every person in America. In comparison, in 1900 the average American consumed only 5 pounds of sugar per year. And the news gets worse: Our kids today consume about 34 teaspoons every day — that’s more than two 20-ounce sodas — making nearly one in four teenagers pre-diabetic or diabetic.
So where are we getting all this sugar from? There are 6000 processed packaged foods available in the United States. Eighty percent of those packaged foods have some form of added sugar. Ingredients are listed on packaged food labels in quantity order, with the highest quantity ingredient listed first. If a form of sugar or any other sweetener is listed among the first several ingredients that means that food is quite high in sugar. However even if no single sweetener is among the top ingredients, there may be several sweeteners listed throughout the ingredients, which together may add up to a hefty dose of sugar.
But glancing at a label to check for sugar can be confusing. Sugar comes in different forms and a huge variety of different names. To name just a few we have: agave nectar, brown rice syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, glucose, lactose and evaporated cane juice. With all these names and many more it’s no wonder we don’t know where our sugar is coming from. However, no matter what the name, sugar is sugar is SUGAR. Every one of these sweeteners are high in calories and all have little or no nutritional value. Total. Empty. Calories.
Why are these food companies all adding in so much sugar to their products? It’s simple. Sugar is addictive. And the food companies want us to be addicted to their food – that’s how they make money. A recent study showed that sugar is more addictive than cocaine. People crave sugar like they crave a drug such as cocaine or nicotine. They lose control when eating sugar and often eat more than they planned. And eating lots of sugar makes you crave sugar again in the very near future. Here’s what happens: Sugar releases an opiate-like substance into your body. Your brain then sees sugar as a reward, which makes you keep wanting more of it. If you often eat a lot of sugar, you’re reinforcing that reward, which can make it VERY tough to break the habit.
Too much sugar is making us sick and overweight. The facts are in, the science is beyond question. Sugar in all its forms is the root cause of our obesity epidemic and many chronic diseases. You name the disease or condition, it’s likely caused by over-consumption of sugar: heart disease, cancer, dementia, type 2 diabetes, depression, and even acne, infertility and impotence.
Sugar affects all of our bodily systems:
– Sugar makes the digestive system acidic, which leaches vitamins and minerals from the body, particularly calcium from bones and teeth.
– Sugar depletes potassium and magnesium which are both essential for cardiac health
– Sugar suppresses the immune system leaving us more susceptible to illness
– Sugar impairs liver function which can lead to high blood pressure
– And sugar also inhibits blood flow and affects aging, contributing to increased wrinkles and dry aged skin.
To thwart the sugar demon some people do a sugar detox in which they go cold turkey with sugar. They take it out of their diet in all its forms including fruit. These detoxes typically last from 10 days to a month. Many believe this is the fastest and most effective way to gain control over sugar consumption. It can also be extremely hard to do if you are addicted to sugar. Sudden removal of sugar from the diet can cause withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, depression, headaches and achy limbs. This is too much for some people to bear and they feel this type of detox is not sustainable and instead opt for a slower process of removing sugar from their diet.
This slower process can be done by taking out one sugar laden meal or snack a week while also lessening the amount of sugar they put in their coffee or cereal. This slowly retrains their taste buds and less sugar is needed for a food to still taste sweet. As a health coach I’ve seen both of these strategies work. It depends on what kind of person you are – a “rip the band-aid off” person or a “slowly peel the band-aid back” person.
I know decreasing the amount of sugar in your diet is not an easy task. We are given sweet treats as rewards from a very early age. It is ingrained into our culture. But the facts are out. Sugar is not benign – it is killing us. It’s time for us to open our eyes and take control of our health.