I have something to share today. The topic is not new, it has been on the news a lot lately and I have talked about this several times during the past years, but it still does not cease to shock me. That’s why I am here again to talk about sugar and its bitter facts, this time to share something more personal.
Today average Americans consume about 156 pounds of sugar a year, of which only about 29 pounds comes from table sugar; the rest comes from food. This amount is roughly about 200g a day. To compare, 100 years ago sugar consumption would come mostly from fruit, average of 15g daily only.
Few decades ago, fat got the blame for the increase of heart disease, and we entered the low fat era. 30 years later, rates of heart disease and metabolic syndrome increased at least 30%. What went wrong? Would be really the fats to blame? At the same time fat was reduced, sugar increase to level calories and add taste. Today we find sugar everywhere, hidden in food labels under 56 different names!
Currently 30% of Americans are obese; 42 million of kids around 5 years of age worldwide are obese. People who consumed 21 percent or more of their daily calories in the form of sugar are twice as likely to die from heart disease compared to those who got 7 percent or less or their daily calories from added sugar. Besides obesity and heart disease, high blood sugar can boost one’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease, which affects 5 million Americans currently.
Last week I watched That Sugar Film, a documentary by
Damon Gameau where he, that normally eats a healthy diet, includes for 6 weeks the average amount of sugar that Australians, like most of us around the world now, eat regularly. The interesting details it that he does not go for candy or other well known sugary foods, he will accomplish the average sugar consumption by only eating foods with hidden sugar.
The movie inspired me to run a little experiment at home. Compared to the average, we have very little sugar at home. I don’t buy juice, cookies or soda regularly, we read food labels and we are not completely sugar free, we just try to be moderate about it. As for treats there are some good quality ice cream in the freezer and some plain dark chocolate in the pantry, that’s it. Sounds pretty sensible, don’t you think? Even thou, I decided to check how much sugar we are eating daily, specially coming from fructose.
Table sugar is made of molecules of glucose and fructose. While glucose can be used by any cell of the body and is stored as glycogen, fructose has to me metabolized by the liver and is stored in the body as fat. Therefore the excess of fructose is the one that poses consequences to our health, and it is what I decided to observe more closely at home.
We are a family of four here, my husband and I, and our two boys, 6 and almost 11 years old. I labeled 4 mason jars with our names, put aside on the counter-top with a kitchen scale, a teaspoon and a cup to measure, and an empty mason jar to tare the scale when measuring.
In America, unlike other countries, there is no daily recommendation of sugar on food labels. However, WHO (World Health Organization) suggests that 10% or less of your daily calories should come from sugar, which is an average of 8 teaspoons of sugar per day for an adult. Each teaspoon of sugar has 4g of sugar, so let’s say we should not eat more than 32g of sugar per day (more specifically 7 tsp for women and 9 tsp for men). So how many teaspoons of sugar are you eating a day? Do you have an idea? I thought I had a better idea, but the little experiment here alarmed me right on the first day, especially for my youngest boy who is only 6 years old.
It is summer, kids are off school and we are taking it easy. Practical meals and in some weeks days an ice cream here and there instead of keeping them for the weekends.
So here it goes: my youngest had for breakfast a mashed banana with a half cup of oats and sprinkled cinnamon, and I baked some “pao de queijo” for them (Brazilian cheese buns made out cheese and tapioca flour). The eldest had a small cup of coconut water.
For lunch we had some tacos, grilled chicken, beans, lettuce, and peppers. In the afternoon the little one had a portion of ice cream (big tantrum for that, then I ask myself why I store that in the freezer…) and before his taekwondo class a pot of fruity yogurt that my husband bought to be an easy snack during these summer days. For dinner we had the same tacos as for lunch, they had few pieces of dark chocolate and some plain popcorn later in the night. That was it. How many teaspoons of sugar do you think they ate? My youngest had a staggering amount of 124g of sugar which corresponds to 31 teaspoons of sugar!!!! This is 3 times more than the recommended allowance for an adult!!! I am shocked, and I am sad, and that’s why I am here today to share this with you. If in my house, that has very little sugar compared to average, what is going on other families? It does concern me a lot for the sake of these kids.
Now, where do you think the sugar came from? The ice cream and chocolate were quite obvious, but it was just a little. The beans for lunch and dinner were added of a little bit of BBQ sauce; let’s say each of us had about 1/2 tablespoons of it. The yogurt had 32g of sugar in it!! So you see, just one yogurt might have the maximum amount of sugar recommend for an adult a day!! Beware people. Food marketing is deceiving, and many foods presented as healthy or organic might not be what they look. If you drink soda, a regular can of coca-cola has 39g of sugar and a regular can of Montaindew 46g!! So just a single can of soda is more than the daily recommended sugar intake for an adult.
You see, the trick is the hidden sugar; especially on food that you have no idea has sugar in it, like sauces and dressings, or in food disguised as healthy. Information and awareness is the key. Reading labels is important, or even better, avoiding labels. I will carry on the experiment at home and observe it closer, and of course implement some changes.
This is not about weight gain or loss, this is about health. Sugar consumption leads to obesity, high blood pressure (it is actually worse than salt!), high blood sugar, high cholesterol, it alters hundreds of genes in your brain interfering with brain function, including genes that control metabolism. but because sugar is not an acute toxin, it ;s chronic, the FDA does not do much about it, since it only regulates acute toxins. In a long run the effects are devastating, Sugar i also more addictive than cocaine, since sugar stimulates the same award centers in the brain as cocaine or heroin. You don;t need to be overweight to suffer from these effects, for example many people on healthy weight have high cholesterol.
If you feel inspired to make a change, the first step is awareness. Would you be curious to do the same at your house? I invite you to take this journey with me and share your thoughts and results. See you later!