When transitioning into a healthy diet, a lot of the ingredients can feel new and foreign. It can feel overwhelming to try to decipher between "healthy labeling" and actual nutrient-dense foods. I am still learning (and always will be), but I want to share a little bit of background on sugar. In the United States, our foods are littered with sugar. In this blog post, my hope is to shed some light onto this and empower you to make healthy choices, and cut out the extra, unnecessary sugar! I want you to know why you are (or may want to make) the sugar swaps!
It is important to note, sugar has many other names. The following are names you'd commonly see on nutrition labels that are just another word for sugar (5). **Note: this is only a FEW of the MANY names!
fruit juice concentrate
high-fructose corn syrup
brown rice sugar
corn syrup solids
So, maybe you are wondering why sugar consumption matters. It matters because we, as American's, are slowly killing ourselves. 1/3 Americans are obese. Every 37 seconds, 1 American dies of heart disease. In the last 30 years, diabetes rose by 50%. Chronic disease has become the leading cause of death (and disability), and chronic diseases are typically a result of behavioral lifestyle choices. 70% of deaths in the U.S are a result of chronic disease. And for those of you who don't know, chronic disease "is defined as an incurable illness or health condition that persists for a year or more, resulting in functional limitations and the need for ongoing medical care. Most chronic diseases are preventable, and manageable through early detection, treatment, and healthy living" (1).
The most prominent chronic diseases in the United States are heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Again, these chronic diseases are often caused by behavioral lifestyle choices. Some of these behavioral lifestyle choices include...
"Tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke (to learn more, click here and here) .
Poor nutrition, including diets high in added sugars, low in fruits and vegetables, high in sodium, and saturated fats (to learn more, click here) .
Lack of physical activity (to learn more, click here) .
Excessive alcohol use (to learn more, click here)" .
Chronic disease declines your health, quality of life, and can cause permanent disability over time. It reduces your lifespan. Additionally, indirectly, chronic diseases also negatively impact our nation's economy. Chronic diseases lower productivity and slow economic growth "as a result of escalating corporate health-care costs and the fact that 75 cents of every dollar spent on health care, or about $1.7 trillion annually, goes towards treating chronic illness" (1).
Now that there is a brief understanding of how problematic chronic diseases are, I want to hone in on sugar. Sugar consumption is definitely a key player in poor nutrition that leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases. So, let's dive into sugar.
In 1820, the average American ate only 2 lbs of sugar in a YEAR (3).
In 1970, the average American ate on average 123 lbs of sugar in a year (3).
Today, the average American consumes on average 152 lbs of sugar in a year! 152 lbs = 3 lbs/week = 6 cups a sugar a week = .85 cups A DAY (3).
It seems safe to say, the average American is either addicted to sugar, or we are consuming sugar unknowingly. I'd assume it's a bit of both: we are addicted, and unaware. Sugar is often snuck into unexpected places like ketchup, sauces, soup, salad dressing (!!!), milk, oatmeal packets, seasonings, wine, hummus, yogurt, trail mixes, granola bars...etc. Sugar is cheap and addictive, so manufactures often add it to food because it's cost-efficient, and keeps people wanting more (4).
If you want to be more aware of how much sugar you are consuming, it is important to note on a nutrition label, sugar is often measured in grams. 4 grams = 1 teaspoon (4). One 12 oz can of Coca-Cola has 39 grams of sugar. That's 3 tbsp & 3/4 tsp of sugar...in just ONE drink! Sometimes we can have two or three Coca-Colas throughout the course of a day...YALL, that's OVER 1/2 a cup of sugar! (.61 cups to be exact). A grande Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino has 52 grams of sugar...that's 13 teaspoons (or a little over 1/4 cup of sugar!) It's easy to see how we can consuming .85 cups of sugar a day when sugar is in so much! High sugar foods fill us up with a pile of empty calories. Empty calories do not fuel our body and leave us hungry and irritable because of the lack of protein and fiber (4).
So, if you're looking to start cleaning up your diet, and consuming less sugar, I encourage you to check out your nutrition labels! Look at the ingredients, check to see how many grams of *added* sugar there is in each serving. If you want to clean up some of your baking recipes, consider swapping traditional cane sugar/brown sugar for non-traditional sweeteners like raw honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, dates, or a fruit like a banana. These sugars are nutrient-rich, and relatively are low-glycemic (meaning. they take longer for our body to break down and thus do not result in sugar spikes!) . Avoid artificial sweeteners like (aspartame, sucralose/Splenda, saccharin, and neotame) which are in many diet products. The safety of these products (aka chemicals) are still heavily debated. Additionally, many individuals "report headaches, stomach aches, and a general ill feeling after eating artificial sweeteners. Some studies have shown that chemical sweeteners can actually change the bacterial makeup of your microbiome, throwing your entire gut health out of whack" (6). Yikes!
In short, my advice is to check your nutrition labels and eat clean, whole, nutrient-dense foods. Still treat yourself occasionally, but keep it as a treat, not a lifestyle! I hope this post empowered you to cut back on unnecessary sugar. Knowledge is power! Here's to living a balanced, joy-filled life!
Source 1: "NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training" Textbook
Source 2: https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/index.htm
Source 3: https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/nhp/documents/sugar.pdf
Source 4: Rachael Good Eats 7-Day Added Sugar Detox E-Book
Source 5: https://www.virtahealth.com/blog/names-for-sugar
Source 6: https://www.justdatesyrup.com/blogs/research/the-5-best-sugar-substitutes-and-sweeteners-to-avoid