By Kelly Jamieson Thomas, PhD
Sugar, which is undeniably highly addictive, is the number one additive in our food. Food manufacturers are hiding added sugar in almost every food including pizza, juice, bread, ketchup, and even baby formula. Added sugar consumption causes several diseases, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gout, fatty liver disease, some cancers, and tooth decay. What are added sugars? Those not found naturally in foods. When you eat an apple, it’s sweet, but the sugar in an apple isn’t added. But, when you drink a soda or eat an energy bar, the sugar in both of those is added. Prior to 1950, there were no added sugars in food. Since then, with the onset of added sugar in our food, Americans consume 39% more sugar. On average, we are eating 152 pounds of sugar per year, which is 2/3 of a cup per day! With such an astounding increase in our sugar intake, it’s certainly not surprising we are seeing a hefty increase in diseases related to sugar consumption, specifically obesity.
Is there a true link between increased sugar intake and increased body weight, specifically, body fat content? In an attempt to answer this highly debated question, the World Health Organization (WHO) analyzed thousands of studies and selected the most reliable. They focused on identifying an overall indication of how population changes in added sugar consumption affects our health. The resounding results—yes, increased sugar intake leads to increased body fat (adiposity). In children, this was especially relevant to consumption of sugary beverages, such as soda. Just as Bloomberg faced backlash for attempting to rid New York of large soda bottles, WHO has also received similar resistance for encouraging us to consume 5% of our calories from added sugar. The guideline has been officially set at 10%, which is equivalent to approximately one 12-ounce soda per day.
With clear evidence linking excess added sugar intake to the rapidly growing obesity epidemic, it’s in our best interest to seriously consider how sugar may ruin our long-term health. If we don’t change our habit and instead continue to gorge on added sugar, we will continue to see a rise in obesity. Currently, in the US, about 78 million adults (more than 37%) and 12.5 million (17%) youths are obese. Obesity incidence has risen from 14.5% to 30.9%, more than doubling, between 1971 and 2000. Obesity, the leading cause of preventable death, poses a significant risk for decreased life expectancy, type 2-diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis and some cancers. Not only are we making ourselves fat, but we are also creating an enormous burden in healthcare costs. If the obesity rate continues to grow at current rates, healthcare costs attributable to obesity, which were $147 billion in 2008, are predicted to increase to $957 billion dollars by 2030, a startling 18% of total US health expenses.
What are we doing to make a change? Recently, the FDA has set new standards for food labeling. Information about added sugars will be required and serving size portions will be adjusted to reflect our larger portion size. Unfortunately, to our dismay, food manufacturers will not be forced to limit added sugars, nor will 20-ounce sodas and other sugary drinks be banned from the markets. With such strong evidence supporting the link between our increased consumption of added sugars and obesity, it’s time we wean off added sugars. Clearly, we can’t rely on processed foods to help us do this. The bottom line: let’s eat real food! Have some strawberries instead of strawberry ice cream. Ditch that soda for sparkling water with fresh lemon in it. If we consider that our food is our fuel, would you want to run on processed junk or naturally nourishing fuel?