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.