Yes, we all know it. Our doctors have told us. Dietitians have told us. Scientists have told us. Health food fanatics have told us.
However, in case anyone missed the memo, here it is again: Sugar is bad for you!
True, not all sugar is terrible, and in small amounts, even the worst, most processed “Devil’s Dandruff” can be just fine, and may even have a few small benefits.
But most of us don’t consume just a small amount. In fact, in our modern society, keeping our daily intake of the sweet stuff down to or below the recommended maximum of 25 to 37.5 grams per day takes some real discipline and care, particularly when you consider that even a nice, healthy piece of fruit may contain up to 14 grams of it.
And no, just because it comes from fruit, or is labeled “natural” or “organic” does not mean it is any better for you in the long run.
In fact, these labels may act as little more than enablers, and will ultimately do no more than encourage you to consume what is essentially a great-tasting toxin in higher amounts than what you really should be.
And by the way, no one is saying to skip the fruit, as fruit is a great, nutritious alternative to processed sweets. However, it is good to be aware that fructose comes from fruit, and should also be counted as sugar when counting daily sugar intake, despite fruit’s other nutritional benefits.
So Just Why is Sugar So Bad For Us?
The thing is, we humans have not evolved to the point where we can metabolize the amounts of sugar typically found in our modern diet, period.
Unfortunately for us, sugar is also highly addicting, to the point that it is often compared to cocaine and heroin in it’s addictive properties, which are not kind of white powders we want our food to be compared with!
In fact, consumption of excessive amounts of sugar has been linked to:
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
- Sugar addiction.
And there may also be other mental problems which arise from excessive sugar consumption, such as:
- Learning disabilities.
The bottom line (no pun intended) is, sugar is as detrimental to our health and waistline as it is addicting, which makes for a perfect unhealthy storm.
But Aren’t These Modern Diseases and Conditions? What About My Ancestors and Their Sugar Consumption?
Okay, so it’s easy to say that sugar has been around for quite some time–which it obviously has been–so why weren’t these conditions as prevalent with our ancestors as they are today?
Easy–your ancestors didn’t have access to as much sugar as you do today!
True, refined sugar has been around since before the year 1100. However, it was only available in its refined form in limited quantities, and at a very high price.
In fact, the price of a kilo (about 2.2 lbs) of sugar in London around the year 1300 was equivalent to about $100 of today’s money, which is why it was considered “White Gold” at the time.
And, just as with real gold, the economic factor led to a rush of those interested in capitalizing on it, so that by around 1750 there were 120 sugar refineries operating in England.
However, despite an annual output of 30,000 pounds, sugar was heavily taxed, making it a luxury item until the year 1874, which was when the sugar tax was abolished. Having become free of cost limitations, sugar then made the transition from a high-priced luxury item, to an everyday commodity which the average citizen could afford.
And with that, so began our modern health epidemic.
So, Sugar Caused Everything To Go Downhill Immediately?
Sugar consumption, like so many things new to a society, did not immediately hit the highs which are of such a concern today.
However, there has been a steady increase in the average amounts of sugar we consume over the past centuries–something which has increased by leaps and bounds with the progression of centuries.
In fact, consumption of processed sugar has gone from around 0% prior to the 1700’s, to about 100 lbs per year today, or about 20% of our modern calorie intake.
And remember, with 100 lbs being the “average,” that means that around 50% of our population eats twice that amount! Whoa, that’s a lot of sugar.
Even more alarming is the fact that this trend coincides with our current obesity epidemic, most notably starting in the 19th century, which is when sugar consumption began its sharp upturn.
It was during that time that processed sugar consumption went from the 4 lbs per year average it was in 1700, to 18 lbs in 1800, and then an even greater leap to 60 lbs per year by 1900(!).
However, it is in our most recent modern times that we have seen the greatest increases in both obesity, as well as consumption of processed sugars, usually in the form of processed foods.
In 1990, for instance, no state had an obesity rate of over 15%. However, this percentage doubled to 30% by 2004.
Today, that number stands at 36%, and while extreme obesity–or those with a BMI of over 40–was nearly unheard of 50 years ago, the rate of extreme obesity now stands at 1 in every 20 adults, meaning that despite what we know about sugar and poor nutrition in general, the trend continues.
Who is Responsible For All of This?
Of course, the short answer for who to blame our current health conditions on is none other than–you guessed it–ourselves. We are all able to read nutrition labels, avoid fast foods and look for whole, natural sources of complete nutrition.
However, it may not be so simple.
Most of us lead busy lives, and are often in need of convenient short-cuts, and simply purchasing something pre-made for lunch, snacking, etc. is often the most immediate short-cut we know of.
What this means is that most of the time, we are just trusting our food source, or going with what is available despite what is in it.
But, just as with so many others in our modern world, food manufacturers are looking for their highest profit margins, as well as to sell you something which you will like and will return to buy more of.
Now, remember the above information about how not only the cost of sugar has come down dramatically, but that sugar is in fact addicting? Let’s put these two factors together, and what we have are happy, profitable food producers, along with a fat, unhealthy population!
So, to say the least, sticking with convenience is probably not the best thing for our collective waistlines (dammit!).
So, Can Anything Be Done About Our Addiction To Sugar?
Just as with far too many things in our modern world, money has the loudest voice. True, many Americans are becoming conscious of their eating habits, although with companies still making higher profits than ever through the use of processed sugar, there is still work to be done.
So what can we do?
Well, it may take some patience and discipline on our part, but we can:
- Stop buying products with questionable ingredients–Companies rely on you buying their products, so not buying what they have to offer will force their hand into selling something you will buy.
- Shop for simple, nutritional, whole foods–Sure, the convenience is not quite what the grab-and-go section has to offer, but still more convenient (not to mention less expensive) than doctor visits and hospital stays! Oh, and by the way? The aforementioned fruit is the original convenient grab-and-go item, and a perfect substitute for your afternoon candy craving–give it a try!
- Rally behind political entities who support a healthy population–No, it is not about voting for one party or the other. However, voting with your family’s and community’s health in mind can help create change toward a healthier future for all. Letting your congressman know how you feel doesn’t hurt either.
- Cook at home–Now come on, you know it isn’t that hard! In fact, cooking is a wonderful hobby, and the skills you learn can be passed down to your children, and to their children, etc, etc. No time you say? Make a lot of something on Sunday, such as a big tasty pot of chili, stew, soup or the like which you can either freeze or keep in the refrigerator for convenient meals throughout the week (and by the way, it will taste better and better as the week goes on!).
- Be aware of added sugar in more than just your food–Not only should you be aware of processed sugars in the foods you eat, but also in the vitamins you take, the mints you freshen up with and the gum you chew. Added sugar can also often be found in many sauces, soups and condiments, so read those labels folks–sugar is everywhere!
You know it, and everyone else knows it too. We need to cut down on our added sugar, and we need to do it sooner than later.
So, whether it is being careful when choosing your food, preparing more of our own foods, or teaching the person next to you how to do the same, we do have options.
Remember though, it all starts with your actions!