The Scary Truth About Sugar

Kids in America eat too much sugar. And so do adults.

The Centers for Disease control estimates that the average American now consumes 170 pounds (77 kg) of sugar every year.  And, a recent post on the Mayo Clinic’s Nutrition-Wise blog noted that on average, kids are getting just under 20% of their daily calories from added sugars.  Yikes!

OK, here’s a little “sugar math.” For optimal function, your body requires only 2-4 teaspoons of sugar per day. That’s less than .5 ounce of sugar per day.  If the average American consumes 170 pounds (77 kg) that’s about 12 ounces of sugar per day which is nearly TWENTY FIVE times what is required for optimal function.

Over-consumption of sugar is associated with many health problems: dental disease, diabetes, obesity, mental health & behavioral issues, chronic inflammation and even some cancers.

One of the very, very best things you can do for your overall health is to cut down on your sugar intake. You might be thinking,”Not a problem for me – I don’t eat (or drink) very much sugar at all!”

Well, here’s the thing: When you eat starchy carbohydrates like bread, bagels, cereal, pasta, white rice, pretzels, crackers and white potatoes, your body very quickly turns those foods into simple sugars. A bagel, for example, has about 45 grams of starchy carbohydrates. While you probably don’t see that bagel as sugar, your body very quickly converts a bagel to about 11 teaspoons of simple sugar. (For comparison, a can of soda contains 44 grams of sugar, about 11 teaspoons.)

Not convinced? Try this: Chew a little piece of bagel and leave it on your tongue without swallowing. After about a minute, you should perceive a sweet taste on your tongue. Again, while you don’t see it as a sugary food, it takes your body less than a minute to convert the bagel into simple sugars.

In truth, our heavily grain-based diet provides us with an astonishing amount of “hidden” sugar. While grains – particularly whole grains – can certainly be part of a healthy diet, the over-consumption of refined grains in the form of starchy carbohydrates contributes to the list of health problems associated with high sugar intake.

Guess what? Added sugars (refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, malt syrup, dextrose, Florida crystals, cane sugar, honey, maple syrup, and molasses) have absolutely no nutritional value.  The blood sugar spikes that result from eating these foods actually require the body to tap its stores of important B vitamins and minerals like calcium, potassium, iron, chromium and zinc.   These vitamins and minerals are critical for optimal health and mental health.

It’s one thing to indulge in a slice of cake or a holiday cookie, but the truth is that kids are getting too much sugar in their daily diets, year-round.  Here’s something that may surprise you:  over 80% of the items in a typical grocery stores contain added sugars.  A great habit is to check the label on anything that comes in a box, bag or package.  If it has lots of added sugars, consider whether there might be another option.  Some tips to help you steer your kids (and you) away from too much sugar:

1.) Limit baked goods and candy.
An obvious one, but easier said than done when kids may be getting doughnuts, cupcakes and candy at school.  Suggest alternatives to teachers and other parents, and save the sweets for special occasions.

2.) Check the label on your cereal box.
So many boxed cereals have added sugar (yes even the ones that label themselves “healthy”.  Instead, try whole grain cereals like steel-cut or rolled oats.  For a bit of sweetness, add some honey but that way you control the portion.  Nuts, berries or other fruit and cinnamon add flavor and heartiness to basic grains.

3.) Avoid “kid” yogurts or other flavored yogurts.
Yogurt has natural milk sugars already built in.  Many “kid” yogurts and flavored yogurts also have a significant amount of added sugar.  Opt for plain yogurt and add sweetness with a touch of honey, or by blending in fresh or frozen berries or other fruits.

4.) Stick to water and unflavored milk, or non-dairy milk like homemade almond milk or hazelnut milk at least most of the time.
Juices, sports drinks, soda and other flavored beverages have too much sugar. When I say juices, I’m not referring to fresh juices you make with your juicer. I’m referring to the store-bought juices that are found in your typical grocery or corner store. For more info on the difference between fresh and bottled juices, read this article.

5.) Snack smart.
You and your family will undoubtedly enjoy sweet treats, but why not try one of our Smart Sweets to keep the processed ingredients out? And when it comes to every day eating, here’s some alternatives to sugar-laden snacks: a piece of fruit, some mint, ginger or licorice tea with a little honey, a handful of dried berries, a tall drink of water (over-consumption of sugar makes some people confused about whether they are hungry or thirsty).