We've heard about the evils of sugar. But it's not until you see it, or feel it, that it's real. Take, for instance, an innocent trip to Dunkin' Donuts. A bonding moment for grandparents and children, until the second iced chocolate doughnut (with rainbow sprinkles) hits the bloodstream, and suddenly a little blond bomb goes off, jumping from the back of the couch yelling "Why do we always have to do what you want to do first?" (I'll just say here, that the answer is cheese. A big block of it, some fat and protein to temper the blood sugar high.)
Maybe this is just my kid: many deny sugar has this revving effect and science hasn't proven it. Some systems may just be more sensitive than others. But behavior aside, let's review what science has shown about sugar. Excess sugar contributes to cavities, weight gain, and diabetes, but also is linked to suppression of the immune system, autoimmune diseases, Alzheimers, arthritis, asthma, heart disease and migraines. Cancer has a big sweet tooth as well, and has been linked to breast, ovarian, prostate and rectal cancer. It can weaken eyesight and lead to premature skin aging.
Yes that's right. Wrinkles. Sugar really is evil.
The average American living at the turn of the century -- when heart disease and cancer were rare -- ate just five pounds per year of added sugar: today, that number is 130 pounds, meaning an additional two to three pounds per person per week. [Source: USDA] When you consider that the American Heart Association recommends that men limit added sugars to 150 calories a day, or nine teaspoons, and women to 100 calories a day, or six teaspoons, it seems a big undertaking.
How do you know how much added sugar you're eating anyway? A tablespoon of sugar equals four grams of sugar and about 16 calories, which sounds pretty innocuous. But take that further: An 8-ounce can of Coke has 27 grams of sugar, 100 calories (and seriously, who ever drinks just 8 ounces of soda? The American daily average is 28 ounces!).
We expect that soda has sugar. But look further -- a 6-ounce Whole Foods organic cherry yogurt has 29 grams of sugar, and 150 calories. Dairy has naturally occurring sugar, you say, and you would be right. But the same amount of plain yogurt has just 12 grams of sugar. So is the organic yogurt real food? Or a sugary treat? The line blurs.
Not to pick on this little container of yogurt, but it is a fine example of the conundrum shoppers face. (And it is in my fridge.) It's a reputably healthy brand, one of the top marketers of "healthy" foods in the country. It's "organic." And nowhere in the label does it say "sugar." The second ingredient, however is "organic evaporated cane juice," which is sugar. The label tells us that its fat calories are 0, but not what the sugar load is. But if you do the math, it is extraordinarily high: 77 percent of the calories in this healthy treat are sugar calories, and 56 percent are sugars added to the sugar naturally occurring in yogurt.
Experts from Harvard say a good rule of thumb is to read the label, and if sugar is at or near the top of the list, or several sources of added sugar are sprinkled throughout, take a pass. They also have a list on their website of the names for added sugar that can trick us on food labels.
Here are a few, from the U.S,. Health and Human Services Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
- Agave nectar
- Brown sugar
- Cane crystals
- Cane sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Crystalline fructose
- Evaporated cane juice
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Raw sugar
The sugar high, quite simplified, goes something like this: You eat sugar, getting an initial burst of energy your body scrambles to process by producing insulin, which transports the sugar from the bloodstream to the cells and your blood sugar level drops -- the proverbial "crash." So your adrenal glands kick in with some cortisol to help you back up. Over time, the adrenals become overworked, and the whole process makes you exhausted -- plus the excess cortisol, besides weight gain, can trigger chronic disease. The sugar our cells cannot use may also be converted to triglycerides and stored as fat, bad news not just for our waistlines but a host of other ailments, including high cholesterol.
There really is no good news here, other than the fact that so much of nature's own food is tasty, sweet and satisfying on its own that, over time spent without sugar, your taste buds will appreciate more and more. Stevia is a no-calorie sweetener that works for coffee and tea; more on sugar substitutes in future. Try boiling down blueberries, peaches or other sweet foods to use in place of syrup.
For cooking, molasses, honey, raw sugar, in small quantities, will suffice. Make it a challenge to see how much you can cut back. Share recipes here, and we'll post them in the future.
After all this talk about yogurt, I made my own Cherry Yogurt with TEN TIMES LESS added sugar -- check it out!! Also check out Holli Thompson's Halloween post for some great ideas, or try her Goddess Shake.
Your children will thank you.