Sugar: Public Enemy #1

You shoulda known I couldn’t go a week without getting on my food soapbox.  This week, let’s discuss sugar.


I’ll tell you right here and now, I love me some sugar. I have by no means eliminated sugar from my house, and I have no plans to do so.  I have, however, been going to great lengths to use unrefined sugar and other natural sugar sources such as honey and maple syrup in my baking, and I’ve seriously reduced the amount of sugary drinks and snacks I allow in the house.  I have grave concerns about the effects sugar is having on us as a culture, and particularly on our children.

As Sally Fallon states in Nourishing Traditions:

Scientific evidence against sugar has been mounting for decades.

She points out that the diseases of civilization have increased as our consumption of sugar has increased, and over the years, various studies have linked sugar to heart disease, hyperactivity, behavior problems, lack of concentration, violent tendencies, tooth decay, bone loss, cancer, and of course diabetes.

Furthermore, sugar (as well as refined carbohydrates) actually depletes the body’s store of vitamins and nutrients. We’ve all heard that soda and juice are “empty calories,” but Sally Fallon points out that “negative calories” would be a more accurate term.  She likens consuming refined sugar and white flour to drawing on a savings account.  I don’t know about you, but that’s enough reason for me to get it out of the house.

And we all know, despite what the sugar industry wants us to think, that sugar is directly related to the obesity epidemic in our culture.  As Marion Nestle states in her book, What To Eat:

You do not have to look much further than the calories from sugar(s) to explain why Americans are gaining weight.

The sugar industry wants us to think sugar is harmless, and truly, it’s not that sugar, in and of itself, is so evil; it’s simply that we consume far too much of it.

As you know, sugar sells.  Just walk down the breakfast aisle at your local supermarket.  Most boxed cereals are loaded with sugar.  The snack aisles are full of it too.  You can’t even avoid sugar in the dairy aisle, with its highly sweetened yogurt products taking up about half the refrigerator space.  And don’t get me started on the displays at the cash registers.

What REALLY bothers me is how sugar is peddled to our children — the very ones that sugar harms the most. I am at the point where I don’t even want to take my 3-year-old to the grocery store anymore because she begs for sugary junk in every aisle and while we wait in line to check out.  Even if I don’t walk down the snack and cereal aisles, there are free-standing kiosks stacked with sugar-laden snacks located throughout the store.

And for the record, we’re just as inundated with the sugary snack attack at the health food store as we are at the conventional grocery store. Organic oreos and cookies sweetened with cane juice are *almost* as bad as the originals, and we just plain can’t afford them, so once again, I find myself denying my daughter more than half her requests as we walk the aisles.

I feel like all I do the whole time I’m shopping is say “no” and “no” and “no” and “NO.”  On the one hand, I want to teach my kids to be discerning shoppers, but on the other hand, it seems cruel to parade them through the supermarket past all the junky sugary snacks that are practically calling them by name as they walk by and say “no” to everything.

Sugar as an occasional treat is one thing, but it seems like almost everything we buy is full of it.  And the food industry is sneaky about it too.  Sometimes there are 3 or 4 sources of sugar in a single food.  Start looking at the labels of the food you buy and consider how much of it contains sugar.  Even spaghetti sauce and peanut butter has sugar in it nowadays.

Here’s a statistic for you (once again, from Nourishing Traditions, via The Kellogg Report):

In 1821, the average sugar intake in American was 10 pounds per person per year; today it is 170 pounds per person, representing over one-fourth the average caloric intake.

Let me repeat — a QUARTER of the calories we consume come from SUGAR. Alright then.

Another quote from What To Eat:

Attributing a disease to any one food or food component is always problematic because diets contain many foods, and foods contain a great many components that singly and collectively can affect health.  Even so, plenty of other research, circumstantial evidence, and direct observations about sugars and health should be enough to convince anyone other than an industry defender that sugary foods add unneeded calories to the diet, cause metabolic problems, and promote weight gain.  Common sense tells you that eating ounces of sugars at any one time — without the modulating effects of fiber and other food components — will raise blood sugar beyond where it needs to be, add unnecessary calories, and encourage weight gain.

All this to say, limiting refined sugar intake and replacing sugary snacks and drinks with whole foods is a wise decision for overall good mental and physical health.  My biggest concern is for my children and their performance in school. I have to believe that the large amount of sugar that many children consume contributes to the attention and behavior problems that plague our schools, so I’ve really been watching and limiting their sugar intake lately.

Sugar: What to Buy

It’s best to try to eliminate processed foods containing sugar, but you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?  And please, for the love of all that’s sane, do not replace your sugar with imitations like Splenda and Equal. There is so much wrong with those artificial sweeteners that I don’t even know where to begin.  Just avoid them, okay?  Thanks.  I feel much better now.

Try to avoid all refined sugar, including “raw sugar” and brown sugar, corn syrup, fructose, soda, and fruit juices.

Sweeten your baked goods with natural sweeteners such as raw honey, date sugar, maple syrup, or dehydrated cane juice. (Dehydrated sugar cane juice goes by several names — Rapadura and Sucanat are the biggies.  I like Sucanat, personally.  It has a rich, molasses-y flavor that I find very pleasing.)  These natural, unrefined sweeteners have their vitamins and minerals still in tact, so you can actually justify enjoying a sweet treat every once in a while.  Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself.  My waistline likes to tell a different story.

Try reducing the amount of sugar in your recipes by half. I usually can’t tell much difference when I reduce it by 25%, but any more than that, and it’s hard to convince the kids to eat it.  We’re still working on it, though.  I figure that over time, our taste buds will adjust.

Limiting sugar is one of those good-for-you things you can do even if you aren’t ready to jump wholeheartedly on the traditional foodie bandwagon. Small changes can make a big difference in overall health and weight control, so I really encourage you to consider where you can cut out some sugar from your diets.  Let me know if you do, and if you notice a difference in how you feel!

For more information, here’s an interesting video I found on YouTube — an excerpt from the movie Fat Head, which I plan to rent at my earliest convenience. Hat tip to Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

Join The Conversation

47 Responses

  1. Great points! For a sweet treat, we have frozen fruit (no sugar added of course) smoothies with non fat yogurt or a fruit juice and ice cubes. We also dehydrate fruit in the dehydrator thingy and my kids love that- cheaper than buying those leathery things at the store too (and many times they have added sugar).

    We cut out MOST sugar a few years ago because my youngest was having attention issues. That and switching to whole grains has made a tremendous difference!

  2. So the Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars I just made would be a no-no? Bummer.

    Seriously though, I’m glad you said that about the Equal and Splenda. I absolutely HATE chemicals in my food and drinks–I hate diet drinks for that very reason. I’ll take the real thing over the fake stuff any day.

  3. I gave up all forms of sugar (including alcohol) for Lent this past year. It was an eye opening experience. I just wish I’d had the self control to keep going after 40 days!

  4. Hey, Jo-Lynne:

    What is the swap out ratio for replacing refined sugar in recipes with unrefined? For example, in a recipe that calls for 1/2 cup of brown sugar, would I just substitute 1/2 cup molasses instead? That’s kind of where I get confused because I am not good at “winging” my recipes. I. Need. Very. Clear. Instructions. 😉 But, seriously, same goes for white sugar — can I just replace white sugar with sucanat at a 1:1 ratio?

  5. I’m with you on the very. clear. instructions. 🙂 I replace white refined sugar with Sucanat 1:1. I haven’t tried replacing brown sugar with molasses. I would just replace it with Sucanat.

    I have started making new things that I find on whole foods websites with syrup and honey, rather than experiment with my old tried and true recipes.

    Or if it’s a regular recipe, I’ll do half Sucanat and half white sugar and see how it tastes and then if it’s okay, I’ll try all Sucanat the next time. It’s a bit of trial and error. I also do the same with whole wheat pastry flour. I’ll replace half the white flour in a recipe with the whole wheat pastry flour. It’s lighter than regular whole wheat.

  6. Have you read the book “Little Sugar Addicts”? I read it last year, and it was very eye-opening – made a lot of the same points you do in this wonderful post.

    I hear you on the grocery shopping; I’m finding the same thing to be a challenge, for the same reasons.

  7. When my son was little, our local grocery store was promoting their “Fruit of the Week” club. Each week they would have a display of a particular fruit, some common and some uncommon. We had a punch card and Ryan could get his free fruit treat. I let him pick his fruit as soon as we walked into the store. He happily held onto his precious fruit while I shopped the rest of the store. The only problem with this promotion is that now, 15 years later, I have a teenage boy who consumes vast amounts of fruit and we have to set limits on his consumption so that we can still pay our mortgage. Now I’m wishing they had promoted a “veggie of the week” club!

  8. I am out doing some blog hopping. I am participating in a Bible study I think you might be interested in.

    I would like to invite you to join us for an online Bible study for MOMMAS on the book of Ephesians. We are using my (Jean Stockdale) workbook called “High Stepping in Heavenly Places.” The 10-week study will begin Sept.24. A workbook is available with homework for 5 days a weeks. You will also be able to watch a 45-minute weekly video or download a podcast of the message, and then share in an online discussion with other moms. Interested?

    Get more details at https://highsteppinginheavenlyplaces.wordpress.com or at blog at https://jeanstockdale.typepad.com. We would love to have you join us! Blessings.

  9. Yeah, I’m with you on the sugar thing. I hardly used processed foods now. I do have Breyer’s All Natural ice cream for a treat now and then. I refuse to use Splenda ever again after finding out it’s something that’s found in pesticides. And I made the switch to honey, maple syrup and sucanat. I made some no-bake cookies the other day with sucanat, and they taste terrific. No difference in taste whatsoever. My friend enjoyed them, too.

    I actually love that eating saturated fat has taken away most of my craving for sweets anyway. I am just as happy eating a piece of fruit as I am eating a cookie. My dietary desires have changed dramatically.

  10. What do you use as a sugar substitute in baked goods? or do you just reduce it. I already try to reduce the sugar in traditional recipe but not sure how in ceratin items how I could cut it out all together.

  11. I loved this post. Having to give up sugar for some pretty major health issues…all tell ya … it isn’t easy, BUT IT’S SO WORTH IT!

    Rice milk is a great alterative if you’re wanting to add a bit of sweet to things.

    I live in Australia and they’ve BANNED the use of corn syrup in all food production here.

    thanks for keeping us thinking!

  12. Wow, Liz, that is really amazing! I love hearing these testimonials. 🙂 Good for you! I still have my sweet tooth, but I’m working on that.

  13. Michelle, I use Sucanat as a substitute. B/c it’s not quite as sweet as refined sugar, I do a 1:1 ratio. But if I’m trying to reduce refined sugar in a recipe, I will reduce it by about 25%. Hope that helps!

  14. Michelle (the other Michelle, lol) – that’s great. I’ve heard that some countries are banning it. I’ll be surprised if it ever gets banned here because the sugar lobby and the corn farming industry are so powerful. The government subsidizes those farmers. It all makes me want to scream.

  15. It’s not the sugar itself..it’s just that Americans overdo it in typical American style.

    I grew up on Fruit Loops practically as a breakfast cereal. I’m healthy, more fit than most women my age and neither my brother nor I have had any issues with depression, ADHD, learning delays, chronic health issues, blah blah blah.

    No matter what sugar you use (i.e. cane syrup and whatever), your carb count is going to pretty similar and the end result is the same.

  16. Susan, I agree – which is why I made sure to point out that we as a nation are eating way too much sugar and suggested reducing it in various ways.

    As far as the carb count of the natural sugars – true. They should be used sparingly, and I probably should have been more clear about that. But it is my understanding that the unrefined sweeteners contain vitamins and minerals that have been stripped out of the refined versions, so if you ARE going to sweeten something, it is better to use the most natural source.

    But the key word here, no matter what kind of sugar we’re using, is “sparingly.”

    Oh, and ironically, after I posted this yesterday afternoon, the ice cream truck rolled thru our hood. I usually say no, but yesterday I let the kids each get one b/c I figured it’s one of the last days it will come by this summer. My husband threatened to take a picture and post it on my blog, lol.

    All that to say, this is all a goal. I’m not completely neurotic about it. But sugar is something that I, personally, have always been pretty lax about, and the more I read about it, the more convicted I am that I need to reign it in a bit.

  17. Although we’ve cut out a lot of the HFCS around here we still do get a lot of sugar (too much I’m sure) and I will admit I’m probably the worst culprit. It’s just like a drug, you know?

    We don’t do a lot of sugary drinks but it’s in the ‘natural’ cereal bars I buy and many other things I’m sure.

    Oh sugar, why can’t I quit you?

    I do like your suggestion about cutting it down in recipes. I’m going to start doing that for sure…

  18. Thank you for addressing advertising’s role in our sugar addiction. I was just thinking about this, the other day, while shopping with my two youngest. I don’t remember nearly the amount of sugared cereal choices when I was a kid. There are so many choices now on the shelves it seems that sugared cereal is the norm, rather than the treat it should be.

  19. First love the new look!! Second we use Splenda for everthing. The boys can’t tell the difference. The brownie cookies I make come out just as light and creamy as if I used real sugar. And they last just about the same time as the others…27 seconds!

  20. So if we were going to use something else for baking, where we would find substitution guides? I try to limit sugar in our house, and am mostly successful except for yogurt and some cereals. Our budget being what it is (more on that in a post this week), I buy what’s on sale and what I have coupons for, and sometimes that is cereal that I usually wouldn’t buy. As for feeling bad about telling your daughter no so often, just tell her it is junk and not good for her. My kids know that I will not buy them most of what they ask for because of that, and they don’t mind. Kids want to be healthy, I think.

  21. You are so right on with this post. We are pretty good at limiting our sugar intake, and I’ve learned over the years to substitute when I can (honey and sucanet are my faves),…BUT (and there’s always a big but in there somewhere)…I admit, I like raw sugar in my coffee, EVERY day ~ it’s either I get to have it, or I quit drinkin’ coffee, and I just don’t see either of those thigns workin’ for me, :). As for making frostings and cakes, sometimes to get a true taste, I found I just have to use the sugar…got another solution? 🙂

  22. Okay, I LOVE this post. I have almost completely cut sugar out of my diet. I don’t buy processed foods anymore, so that helps. I don’t eat sweets, except on rare occassions (and then I eat a lot less of it). I get regular lattes at Starbucks instead of a caramel macchiato (with all that syrup in it). The only thing I still do is put a little brown sugar in my cereal or oatmeal, but I use less than usual, and I make my own cereal, so it’s completely free of sugar to begin with. Oh, and of course I use syrup on my pancakes and French toast! I do need to try honey on my cereal instead, but I haven’t gotten there yet.

    Since I started this, I have had way more energy. I don’t feel that tired lull in the afternoon anymore. It’s wonderful.

    Oh, and FYI, my MIL buys whole grain products, trying to eat a healthier diet. I needed a snack the other day at her house, and all the produce was packed for a trip to the cabin. I grabbed some 100% whole wheat Wheat Thins. As I was eating, I looked at the label. There were 4 or 5 differnet types of sugar in them. I showed her the label. I think I grossed her out a little bit!

  23. Oh, and I made zuccini bread the other day. I used all whole wheat flour and banana for part of the zuccini. The recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of sugar! I used 1 cup of applesauce and 1/2 cup of sugar. I had to add an extra 1/2 cup of flour to thicken the mixture a little bit, but it still tasted great.

  24. Kathy, I still do sugar in my coffee too. I know I need to cut it out, but… I just don’t see that happening.

    And as far as cookies and cakes, you can get away with sucanat in cookies, but I wouldn’t bother in cakes. I figure, if I’m making a cake, I’m going to enjoy it with all its sweetness.

    I do make a lot fewer sweet treats nowadays though.

  25. Tiffany, yes, sadly, I gave up buying Wheat Thins this summer. I buy Kashi crackers, if I want a cracker with my cheese. They are SLIGHTLY better for us than the Wheat Thins and Triscuits that I used to buy. And again, we just eat a lot less of them.

  26. I really don’t substitute honey much so I’m not much help with that. Some recipes I have say to use a cup of honey or sugar, so maybe it’s interchangeable? But I don’t know.

  27. Ok so I bought some sucanut yesterday because we are out of sugar so no time like now to make the change. I haven’t tried it yet but it does smell like molasses. What do you put in your coffee because I cannot imagine using this stuff and I don’t like it unsweetened?

  28. You’re going to find that sugar is almost always at the root of an overgrowth of Candida… which is caused by an imbalance of good bacteria. Your good bacteria can’t remain in power if you’re eating too many sugars.

    There was a study I read that upwards of 80% of American’s have an overgrowth/imbalance of some degree. I totally believe it. Once I discovered I was dealing with Candida, and began talking about, people all around me came out of the wood work saying they had the same problem.

    Sugar is SO bad…. but darn it if I don’t love it! Even knowing how bad it is, I still crave it. I’m happy to say I’m doing a really good job of staying away from it, though.

    Great post, Jo-Lynn.


  29. I knew you were going to go here eventually. And dadgum it, I know you’re right. I’ve never tried Sucanat but I think I’ll give it a whirl. How do you feel about stevia?

    We’re big members of the moderation family. For most of our eating, I’m a label reader and we eat healthily. That said, we’re going to eat popcorn at the movie theater and might follow it up with a cone from Cold Stone. We just don’t do it every week.

    I did notice when I was eating much more healthily and had made major cuts in my sugar consumption, I didn’t want sweets as much as usual. Before I started making changes I could probably eat two Snickers in one sitting. After a month of healthy eating, I would eat half a Snickers and not want anymore. And Cokes were almost too sweet to drink. Of course, it didn’t take any time to get right back into my sugar swamp, but it’s good to know that with discipline and time, the cravings are much less.

  30. Great, as usual!

    Two things – I was looking at the Trader Joe’s Organic Sugar, which is what I usually buy. And on the back it says that it is just evaporated organic cane juice. So does that mean it is really sucanat but is being labeled as sugar because that’s all they carry do you think? I mean, under it in smaller letters it says it’s ECJ. Just interesting. I mean, more and more they are going into this all natural thing, I”m just wondering if there’s anything different about it I am missing.

    Next, in a magazine last week I saw an ad (I think it was in family fun or something like that) for HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP. On the ad is a man saying ot his wife, “High fructose corn syrup made me fat,” to which she responds, “No, going back for thirds made you fat.” Then in smaller type it goes on to talk about how HFCS is “natural” etc etc. It blew my mind! It’s one of those times where I write a letter in my mind that I really hope I get around to writing and sending because seriously, talk about MISINFORMATION!

  31. Beth, yeah well. They’re both right, in a way. I mean, not that HFCS is natural. But it’s not the HFCS as much as it is the portion sizes that has made us obese. And the sodas.

    Hey, a movie you might enjoy – King Corn – all about how an over abundance of corn is grown (and subsidized from the govt) for the purpose of sweetening all the junk in the stores. GAH.

  32. HFCS is about as natural as sugar is, if you think about it. Sugar is a processed food as well. And it doesn’t matter what form it comes in, whether it’s organic or not or all-natural or not. It’s still sugar. Sugar isn’t good for us and isn’t on the Food Pyramid for a reason – we don’t need it!

  33. Eh, I understand the argument, but I don’t see them the same way. I’d still rather eat refined sugar than HFCS. But I prefer to eat neither. I buy unrefined sugar to bake with, and I try to limit that.

  34. My midwife put me on to Stevia as a liquid sweetener to help me reduce my sugar intake while pregnant.

    It’s about the same consistancy and taste as honey. I use it in my tea, coffee, plain yogurt, and have even used it to sweeten my unsweetened almond milk. It’s quite expensive for a little jar of it, but only 1-2 drops in your cup will be enough, so it lasts a long time.

    It’s natural and even better for you to consume than honey. Try it!

  35. Loved this post! I was doing some googling (love that it’s now a verb!) today about some natural sugar substitutes and/or replacements. I’m quite literally sick at what I found out. I have been using Splenda for almost everything when it pertains to me and sugar for the kids and hubby. I use it every morning in my coffee and my baking because I’m on a self prescribed low calorie/low fat diet. Recently, I have been getting some serious headaches, stomach pains, dizziness and mood swings…which may/may not be related to this if you ask hubby! LOL Anyway, I’m going to try the natural sweeteners because I figure it can’t hurt…literally! I’m hoping it will help with the kids’ behavior also. I’ve noticed them eating alot more sugary foods and they are not as attentive as they used to be plus, it’s almost like they have more aggression or something. I will let you know how it goes and thank you!

  36. I know this is an old post, but wanted to add my 2 cents that I LOVE Sucanat in my coffee. I use sucanat and a drizzle of real cream. Better than any other flavored creamers I’ve had!

  37. Sugar. In high school I used to ritually have a candy bar and soda/day. Biggest I ever was, only time I could actually say I was fat. Few years ago quit sodas and candy, now once a yr I might buy a soda, & I can only get down about a quarter cup of it before getting grossed out cause it’s like drinking syrup!! Also can’t handle too much or too sweet of a desert either now. So I’m guessing it’s a tolerance level thing? Also all my life I’ve been a heavy coffee drinker, w/ white sugar, 2-3 spoons per cup!. This past yr I finally switched to raw honey. Took a week to get used to it. By 2 wks I was enjoying it. Now if we’re out on an all day errands trip I make coffee and take it w/ me in a jar. Had been making the regular starbucks stop for some for the road home(1.5 hr trip!) But felt so nasty after drinking that loaded w/ white sugar. I’ve got stevia but i really haven’t tried to force myself to adjust to it yet. Maybe if i go half and half for starters? I know I still have too much honey so..And my kids are fine w/ less sugar now. But everybody who knows it feels it’s their DUTY to give the kids gobs of sugar everytime they can!! Like they’re unfortunate or something, or they’re trying to be the heroes that bring them sugar? Sad kids when they open a “present,” and it’s nothing but,”poison!!” that’s what they call it. But my girl will sometimes try to eat some, but she can’t stop once she starts. A babysitter used to feed it to them all day everyday!!! Oh and a friend used to babysit once in a while…My girl was almost done w/ a seasonal virus, going through the recovery end of it just identical to what my son had went through..and i had to let my friend watch her that day…she went right back down to the full blown beginning of the sickness!!!! Cause my friend filled her full of sugar all day!!!! Not the first time either. I think that’s proof enough about what it does to your immune response for hours after consuming!!

  38. Really enjoyed reading your post. I agree that we must rid our bodies of refined sugars! If you enjoy sweets, try some dark chocolate which is far better for you than a processed milk chocolate. Stores like Whole Foods have several options to choose from.
    Also, we have become so accustomed to sugary snacks and drinks that we don’t even think fruit is sweet anymore. But, the more we eliminate refined sugars from our life, the better fruit will taste. There are a lot of recipes out there that use primarily fruits to sweeten!

    1. Thank you! And yes, I totally agree of course. I’m so surprised how much more I enjoy fruit now that I don’t eat many sweets. 🙂

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