Sugar may very well be the biggest public health issue we face in America today. Sugar is not just in the desserts we indulge in. It’s in everything! Sugar is even in the foods you would least expect. Would you think tomato sauce has sugar? Look at the ingredients the next time you open up a bottle to pour into your pasta dish! It is most likely the second ingredient in your pasta sauce! What about milk? Yogurt? Soda? Powerade? Cereal? What about those energy bars that are marked as “healthy” and “natural”? Those have sugar in them too! There are not many foods sold in grocery stores today that do not contain added sugar so don’t be fooled!
So what is the problem with sugar? Well, sugar has no nutritional value. Nutritionists often refer to it as an “empty calorie” because while it is still a calorie and can cause weight gain, it doesn’t contain necessary nutrients for the body such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein or antioxidants. Consuming excess sugar can wreak havoc on your health and with the increase of sugar filled foods in stores it can be very easy to overdo it without even realizing it.
Excess sugar intake is linked to:
· Heart disease
· Low immune function
· Fatty liver disease
· Insulin Resistance
· Sugar addiction
· High cholesterol
· And many other health issues!
Obesity, especially, is a growing epidemic in America in which excess sugar is a leading cause. According to the State of Obesity Project, “Obesity remains one of the biggest threats to the health of our children and our country, putting millions of Americans at increased risk for a range of chronic diseases and contributing to more than $147 billion to $210 billion dollars in preventable healthcare spending” (State of Obesity, 2016). Sugar is also “eight times more addictive than cocaine” which makes it that much harder to curb cravings for sugary foods and you end up eating much less healthy foods because you are trying to satisfy your cravings (Pesce, 2014).
Sugar is a huge problem in our world, especially in America where Americans are accustomed to eating the Standard American Diet consisting of overly-processed and fried foods, added sugar, and very little to no nutritional content. It is a cultural norm for children to be drinking sugary drinks like soda daily with their meals or loading up on sugar-filled cereals for breakfast and highly processed meals like boxed macaroni and cheese for dinner. Cookies, ice cream, chocolate, candy, and other sugary desserts are used as rewards and tack on to the amount of daily sugar consumption.
Children are not being taught that there is sugar in their food and what to eat instead. Children are also getting addicted to sugar at such early ages that they higher their risk for obesity and diabetes (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 2016). School lunches are not up to par with proper nutrition. It doesn’t help that children are watching so many commercials for sodas, sweets, and overly processed and sugary foods. The advertisements for Coca-Cola usually have a popular celebrity in them to give people more of an incentive to buy their sugary sodas. Now don't get me wrong, I love me some Taylor Swift but she did not get that skinny and have beautiful skin from drinking some Coca-Cola! Sorry, she just didn't! You ain't gonna look like that by drinking soda...
In the U.K., a few members of Parliament have recommended to ban some of these unhealthy commercials and advertisements during the hours before a typical child’s bedtime, 9pm (Dwyer, 2015). The National Institute of Health even conducted a study to identify if there was a link between television commercials and childhood obesity. The results showed that “a ban on fast-food advertising to children would cut the US obesity rate by as much as 18%” (Alkharfy, 2011). As a parent, this encourages me to monitor what I allow my children to watch and make sure I am encouraging them to eat healthy foods in other ways.
Some ways that you can encourage your toddler to eat healthy:
· Buy board books and other books about healthy eating
· Buy pretend-play fruits and vegetables
· Include them when you are cooking their dinner
· If you have a garden, let them help you and pick their own vegetables
· Make zucchini look like spaghetti ;P
· Take the extra time to make home cooked meals and prep their school lunches
There are many efforts being made throughout the nation to educate families on the health implications of sugar and how to eat less of it. Many people and organizations have teamed up to make documentaries about the sugar epidemic in America, which has been useful in spreading the word. Some of those documentaries are on Netflix and include, “Fed Up”, “The Kids Menu”, “Food Matters”, “Fat Sick and Nearly Dead”. All fantastic documentaries that I highly recommend checking out!
The FDA recently announced their new nutrition labels to include “added sugars” in grams and percent Daily Value. This will help the consumer to understand the difference between naturally occurring sugars and added in refined sugars. The label will also require to identify if the fat content is “Total fat”, “Saturated fat”, or “Trans fat” (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2016).
There are many efforts being made to address the sugar epidemic in America but there is still so much that still needs and can be done. Sugar is an ongoing and growing Public Health issue that needs to be addressed in order to lessen the risk and rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and many other debilitating health concerns.
Do you think you suffer with sugar addiction? What are some things you can do to eliminate some of your sugar intake? Please share in the comments below!
Alkharfy, K. M. (2011, November). Food Advertisements: To Ban or Not to Ban? Retrieved from PubMed Central: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3221124/
Dwyer, L. (2015, November 30). Could This Be the End of Junk-Food Commercials on Television in the U.K.? Retrieved from Take Part: http://www.takepart.com/article/2015/11/30/junk-food-ads-ban-uk
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2016). Added Sugar in the Diet. Retrieved from The Nutrition Source: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/added-sugar-in-the-diet/
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2016). Healthy Eating Plate & Healthy Eating Pyramid. Retrieved from The Nutrition Source : https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/
Pesce, N. L. (2014, February 11). '10 Day Detox Diet' author Mark Hyman tells how to end sugar addiction and clean up your diet. Retrieved from NY Daily News: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/dr-mark-hyman-shows-deadly-sugar-addiction-article-1.1608553
State of Obesity. (2016, September). Obesity Rates Trends Overview. Retrieved from State of Obesity: http://stateofobesity.org/obesity-rates-trends-overview/