The subject of sugar addiction fascinates me for a couple of reasons. Not only can we point to the overconsumption of sugar as the primary contributor to so many diseases and health ailments, but from an economic standpoint, the sugar industry has for a long time now been BIG business! The US sugar addiction propels the sugar biz and the sugar biz keeps producing more and more sugar which only further feeds our collective addiction! When we break it all down, its truly about supply and demand…well, and some extremely ingenious marketing and lobbying, too! In my reasearch (as I research everything), I came across an old article from the New York Times, printed in September,1902. Even at that moment in history and out of all the civilized countries and people groups in the world, the United States, as well as the United Kingdom, consumed the most sugar, per person. Of course, this time period was smack-dab in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, which really wasn’t a “revolution” per say, but an era in which there was significant economic progression and social change. An era which enabled mass industry to transform the way we live, particularly by providing a means of product distribution and availability never experienced previously.
In 1902, Americans consumed an average of 65 pounds of sugar a year…sounds like a lot, huh? Compare that with today’s statistics – a whopping 180 pounds a year, according to Dr. Mercola’s article titled “Dangers of Sugar”. Just to clarify, this number is specific to “added sugars”, not naturally occurring sugars as found in fruits and some vegetables. 180 pounds a year, per person! As sugar is big industry, it’s fairly safe to say that we will likely not see decline in production nor consumption any time soon. We haven’t in the past 100+ years, have we?
So how does one eat 180 pounds of sugar a year? Unfortunately, most of us run on what is called the Standard American Diet which consists primarily of processed foods and drinks. Just about every pre-packaged, pre-made item you find in the grocery store has sugar, in one form or another added to it – even items that are marketed as “health” foods, like yogurt, bread and peanut butter! You might even be thinking, “but I read the ingredient labels!” (which if you do, that’s awesome, keep it up). But thanks to those clever marketers and lobbyists (such as The Sugar Association) sugar now falls under the guise of many, many names which makes it almost impossible to identify at quick glance. Here is a list of just a few:
Barley Malt/ Sugar Beet/ High-Fructose Corn Syrup/ sugar Can/ Dextrose/ Diatase/ Ethyl Malitol/ Fructose/ Glucose/ Lactose/ Maltose/ Mannitol/ Molasses/ Sorghum Syrup/ Sucrose
Given that sugar is so widely available and covertly added to so many of the processed foods regularly consumed by the American population, there is no question that we have developed a strong dependence on the white stuff! So what is the big deal, you ask? When you consume sugar, it throws many of the body’s regulatory systems off-balance. As an example, an influx of sugar into the bloodstream triggers the release of insulin. The body uses insulin to keep blood-sugar at a constant and safe level. Increased insulin levels promote the storage of fat hence when you eat foods high in sugar, your body starts packing on the pounds. This is contrary to popular belief that eating high-fat foods will cause one to gain weight when in fact, it is the overconsumption of sugar and other simple carbohydrates that cause weight gain, particularly around the mid section. Correlative data shows us that as sugar intake has increased over time, so has the incidence of Diabetes. To further, consistent sugar ingestion lowers the immune system. Your immune system is like the body’s army…constantly on guard for foreign invaders and ready to go to battle at a moments notice! When the immune system becomes compromised, you further become vulnerable to an array of illnesses…anything from the common cold to skin breakouts to cancer and beyond. In addition to increased insulin levels and compromised immunity, sugar is like fodder for all of the bad bacteria in your digestive track and excessive intake throws off the balance of good to bad bacteria. This imbalance decreases the body’s ability to assimilate nutrients from foods in addition to the fact that sugar itself has no real nutrient value – empty calories! Regular sugar consumption has also been linked to depression and mental illness, gallstones, hypertension, and arthritis, just to name a few.
So what do we do to break the addiction cycle? Here are 5 pointers you can take with you and begin to implement today:
1. Read Labels: look for any ingredient that is at all suspicious. My guideline? If I cannot pronounce it, or if I cannot immediately assess what the specific ingredient is, then I don’t buy it. Period.
2. 80/20 Rule: 80% of the food you buy should be a “whole” food. A whole food is a food in its most natural state – all produce, eggs and raw meats. No more than 20% of what you purchase should fall into the “processed food” category. This includes breads, crackers, pasta, TV dinners, granola bars, cereal, etc.
3. Cook at Home: If take-out or dining at a local restaurant is your “go-to” dinner method, then save yourself a few bucks by picking up a cook book and start cooking at home more often. We rarely know what we are eating when we dine out – not only could we be consuming mass quantities of sugar, but other unnatural food additives, preservatives and flavor enhancers such as MSG (Monosodium Glutamate).
4. Take Your Lunch: Take a few extra minutes in the AM and throw yourself together a quick salad for lunch to take with you to work. If you have kiddos, prepare their lunches in the evenings and make sure to include an apple, banana, a handful of grapes, etc. (Make peanut butter sandwiches using natural peanut butter and a sliced banana for sweet. Oh, and remember, whole wheat bread, only!)
5. Eliminate All Soda, Juice and Sugared Coffee: This is an absolute must for anyone who desires to lose weight and get healthy. There really isn’t any leeway on this one, either. Keep in mind that although a Coke can states 150 calories, each and every calorie is a sugar calorie. Cut out the Starbucks, or to “ween” yourself, order a green tea with NO SUGAR!
Cutting down on your overall sugar intake will greatly improve your health and help you lose weight. For a few folks, however, coming “off” the sugar isn’t as easy as it sounds. I once taught a nutrition course in which one of the students asked why, since she cut out all sugar, she felt worse instead of better. She complained of headaches, nervousness, and nausea. She was truly addicted and like all addictions, she was experiencing withdrawal symptoms. I promise that if you start by applying my 5 tips above, within about 5-7 days time, you’ll notice that you not only look better, but that you feel better, too. Oh, and if you need a little something sweet for your coffee or tea, try Stevia! I recommend the cinnamon-flavored…its simply delicious!
Nourish your body and cut out the sugar! Don’t forget to let me know how you do!