Monday, July 1, 2013

A Nation of Sugar Junkies

Fat and salt get a lot of attention when the SAD (Standard American Diet) is under discussion. Sugar might deserve a lot more attention than it gets. The average American today consumes about 140 pounds of sugar a year - roughly 45 teaspoonfuls per day - and most of this by far is not sugar that we are adding in ourselves. Roughly half of this total consumption consists of sugars that are added to foods during processing, including foods that we are used to thinking of as "healthy". For example, some brands of yogurt contain as much as 11 teaspoons of sugars. And the trend is toward even higher consumption. "Sugar consumption has been going through the roof," says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "It has increased by 28 percent since 1983, fueling soaring obesity rates and other health problems."

Most of the sugar we consume comes in soft drinks, candy, pastries, fruit drinks and milk-based deserts (ice cream, yogurt, etc.). As usual, it is not always easy to know how much you are consuming as the labeling on food products is ingeniously confusing - if not actually misleading.  Honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, corn sweetener, glucose, sucrose and dextrose are all sugary names that you probably recognize. But what about barley malt, galactose, rice syrup or the supposedly "healthy" agave nectar? All sugar.

Besides packing on the extra pounds, sugar has many other deleterious effects on our health and well being. It pushes us toward diabetes, decalcifies and demineralizes our bones, created a disease friendly acidic environment in our bodies, interfere with hormone balance and reduces the effectiveness of our immune responses. Further, like alcohol or narcotics, sugar is addictive because it briefly but powerfully elevates level of serotonin in the brain.

What's a person to do?

First, just become aware of the sources of sugar in your diet, and how much of it you are consuming. Don't try to eliminate it too quickly. Consciously ease up, reducing the amount you take in little by little. Like smoking, going "cold turkey" is likely to fail. Substituting fresh foods, especially sweet fruits and vegetables, for processed convenience foods and water for sodas and sweetened fruit juices will carry you most of the way.

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