We Eat Too Much Sugar!
The average American eats almost 152 pounds of sugar a year. That’s nearly half a pound every day, or about three pounds every week.
Put that into perspective: Two centuries ago, we ate on average just two pounds of sugar every year!
Some experts call added sugar the single worst ingredient you can eat. The “added” sugar you might find on Nutrition Facts labels of foods, this means it is sugar that doesn’t naturally occur in food and the manufacturer added more.
Plant foods, like fruits and vegetables, have naturally occurring sugar, but they also have other nutrients to help reduce the effect sugar has in your body. Sugar is also called glucose, and when you eat sugar, the hormone insulin is released and turns the sugar into energy for your body. The problem is when you eat more sugar than your body needs, it raises your blood sugar levels, gets stored as fat, and creates numerous other health problems. The vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber in plant foods help slow down sugar absorption and provide other health benefits.
Processed foods with added sugars often don’t provide these nutrients. These products sometimes contain naturally occurring sugar. However, the added sugars in these products can be natural or manufactured chemically.
Overall, these added sugars provide a large number of calories, but no fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. They can actually deplete essential nutrients.
“Added Sugar” Damages Your Metabolism
About 74 percent of packaged foods contain added sweeteners. These foods crowd out healthier food choices. They damage your metabolism, create weight gain, and increase your risk for diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
Hormones & Weight Gain
Nearly 40 percent of American adults are obese, which increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers.
Eating too much sugar can also knock fat-regulating hormones out of balance. Your body converts sugar into glucose, which raises a hormone called insulin. When your insulin levels stay high from eating too much sugar, your body stores those excess sugar calories as fat.
Insulin impacts another hormone called leptin, which is your natural appetite suppressant. Leptin tells your brain to stop eating. But when leptin stays high, your brain doesn’t hear the message to stop eating, so you reach for seconds or thirds of that favorite dessert.
When these and other hormones are shocked because you are eating too much sugar than they can handle, they mess with your hunger signals so you eat more foods — especially sweets.
For some people, added sugar creates craving and withdrawal. In fact, the changes sugar can create in your brain resembles the addiction to drugs such as cocaine and alcohol. When you eat sugar, your brain literally craves more sugar.
How Much Sugar Should You Eat Daily?
The average American eats 17 teaspoons of added sugar daily. That’s more than many organizations recommend.
To put those amounts into perspective, one brand of yogurt contains seven teaspoons of sugar in a single serving, most of it as added sugar.
Pasta sauce can have as much sugar as a chocolate chip cookie, and two tablespoons of salad dressing can have a teaspoon or more of added sugar.
Sugary Drinks, Soda, Sports Drinks, Sweetened Ice Tea
Many processed foods contain added sugar, but what you drink can dramatically increase your sugar intake. In fact, about one-third of added sugars come from soft drinks.
A 12-ounce soda has 11 teaspoons of added sugar, more than the AHA or WHO recommends for an entire day. Most likely, you’ll find 20-ounce or larger cola sizes these days. You absorb sugar from liquids more quickly, which makes it easy to drink more than you should and not feel full.
People who drink sugar-sweetened beverages regularly, such as colas, also eat more calories, exercise less, smoke more, and have a poor overall diet.
Colas aren’t the only sugar-beverage offender. Many other drinks you might drink regularly and even consider healthy — orange juice, lemonade, sweetened iced teas, fruit juices, and sports drinks — can contain almost as much if not more sugar than regular cola.
Sugary sodas, fruit juices, and other sugar-sweetened beverages are also higher in fructose, usually as high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
Your body breaks down any type of sugar you consume into two simple sugars: Glucose and fructose.
However, your body uses glucose and fructose differently. Most cells can use glucose for energy. Not fructose, which goes straight to your liver, where it can create problems.
Excess fructose can increase inflammation and your risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) as well as diabetes type 2.
Fructose can also make you gain weight because excess amounts get stored around your belly and other organs within your abdominal region or midsection. Fat in that region can also increase your risk of disease.
The Problem with Hidden Sugars
If you eat a cookie or a piece of cake, you’re aware of how much sugar that food contains and its impact on your body. As a result, you limit yourself to eating treats like this on special occasions. If sugary foods make you want seconds or thirds, you may avoid them altogether.
So, you try to limit eating sugary foods or skip them altogether. You stick with unsweetened beverages or even water and feel you are being healthy.
But…you are probably still consuming more sugar than you think.
Since you know sugar is bad, food manufacturers will put sugar in many processed, packaged, and fast foods under the disguise of different names.
Many foods that pretend to be healthy, in fact, actually contain added sugars. In fact, food labels contain at least 61 different names for sugar. Some of these names are: sucrose; high-fructose corn syrup; barley malt; dextrose; maltose; and rice syrup.
These added sugars show up in things you might not imagine, such as wheat bread, green drinks, smoothies, yogurt, and dried fruit. Breakfast cereals, sports drinks, instant oatmeal, coleslaw, and sauces like ketchup are other sneaky sugar sources.
To reduce your intake of added sugars, look at the ingredients and Nutrition Facts label. Do not pay attention to what the front of the label says. These are manufacturers’ claims to make you buy their product and create the illusion of healthiness.
Thankfully, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made this process easier. Whereas, at one time all sugars — naturally occurring and added — were added together under “sugar”, new Nutrition Facts labels now list “added sugar” separately.
To find that amount, look under carbohydrates. You will find three things listed:
- Dietary fiber
- Total sugars — the amount of naturally occurring and added sugar in one serving
- Added sugars
The new Nutrition Facts also better reflect an accurate serving size.
The Problem with “Zero Sugar” or “Sugar-free”
Eating too much added sugar can make you gain weight, increase your risk for disease, and much more.
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose make an enticing alternative. They taste sweet, have zero calories, and suggest you can enjoy them without the health consequences added sugar can create. You probably see food labels with claims of, “Zero Sugar,” or “Sugar-free,” but then look at the ingredients on the Nutrition Facts label, and they most likely contain an artificial sweetener.
Unfortunately, artificial sweeteners aren’t a free pass to indulge your sweet tooth. They can disturb your body’s ability to count calories. Rather than satisfy you, they can leave you wanting more and even lead to cravings just like regular sugar can. That’s why they might actually make you gain weight.
Specific artificial sweeteners have been singled out for other problems. Sucralose — or the brand name Splenda® — can also mess with your healthy gut flora.
Aspartame can increase inflammation, reduce your body’s antioxidant defense system, and damage your cells, even when you consume them in the recommended doses.
Aspartame also contains phenylalanine. If you have the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) or certain other health conditions, phenylalanine can cause intellectual disabilities, brain damage, seizures, and other problems.
Is There a Sweet Alternative?
The best way to avoid these added sugars and bad artificial sweeteners is to eat whole foods from nature. When you choose broccoli, blueberries, or raw almonds, you can be certain they contain no added sugars.
Once these foods get packaged or processed, manufacturers sometimes add sweeteners. Here is a grocery shopping tip: Only buy foods in your grocery store’s outer aisles, and buy foods without barcodes.
But, it is expected you will sometimes need to eat convenience foods and want to indulge.
The occasional ice cream cone or birthday cake are life’s little pleasures. You can enjoy them every so often without guilt or damage. But the keyword is occasional.
Minimizing your intake of sugar can be challenging, at first, but use these four strategies to avoid eating sugar and eat healthy for a lifetime.
- Swap out high-sugar, unhealthy foods for foods with nutrition. If you want to reduce your sugar intake, going cold turkey can be effective… but it can also be hard! Rather than depriving or limiting yourself, swap out sugary foods for more nutrient-dense, lower-sugar options. A few ideas include:
- Trade the crunch of cookies or crackers for apple slices or celery with natural almond butter.
- Rather than eat a milk chocolate bar, choose dark chocolate that’s at least 80 percent cacao and low in sugar: Preferably less than five or six grams per serving.
- Have spaghetti squash with pesto rather than starchy noodles with sugary marinara sauce.
- Learn to appreciate the natural sweetness of whole foods. Our taste buds have been conditioned to crave sweet foods. Sugar is an addiction. But with a little training and some time, healthier foods like sweet potatoes or even almonds can satisfy your sweet tooth.
- Add 100 percent natural stevia to your coffee or tea. If you’re not a fan of unsweetened coffee or tea, try stevia extract. This herb, which is several hundred times sweeter than table sugar, makes the perfect zero-calorie sweetener for people. Stevia may even provide some health benefits like blood sugar management. Buy a pure organic stevia extract powder with no other additives. A little goes a long way, and too much can make your beverage taste bitter.
- Try MaxLiving dessert recipes. Healthy fudge, cookies, peanut butter pie, and more? Try some of MaxLiving’s dessert recipes. They are made with healthy, whole foods ingredients like almond flour, coconut milk, and stevia. You don’t need to tell your family they’re healthy, but you’ll feel good watching them enjoy these sweet treats!
Overall, added sugar comes in many forms, which is why finding it on the ingredients label can be a challenge. You have to be “Sugar Smart,” and if you have any suspicion that an ingredient might be sugar, check the Nutrition Facts for added sugars.
As a general rule of thumb, aim for foods that contain five grams or less of added sugar per serving. Bonus points if that food contains dietary fiber, which can help buffer out that sugar load!