Eating too much sugar has become a major health issue in many parts of the world. In fact, sugar has sometimes been referred to as a toxin, especially in the US, where consumption rates are highest. Our bodies need a small amount of sugar to fuel the brain. However, excessive consumption of sugar can certainly have a toxic effect on our bodies. In many parts of the world, changes in the culture of eating have made it increasingly difficult to avoid over-consuming sugar. Excess sugar is converted to fat, causing overweight and obesity. Eating too much sugar is also associated with a higher risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.1,2 Cutting back on sugar in our diets doesn’t have to mean cutting back on our enjoyment of foods.
Here are some simple ways of reducing dietary sugar.
Where is most of the sugar found in our diets?
Surprisingly, that major source of simple sugar in our diets isn’t usually the sugar bowl on the table. Most of the excess sugar in our diet comes from processed foods, including breakfast cereals, sodas and other sweetened beverages. A 32 ounce soda contains approximately 100 grams (or 25 teaspoons) of sugar! That more than 2.5 times the daily allowance for an adult male.
Packaged foods are also culprits, often containing large amounts of sugar to increase their taste (making us want them more) and to increase their shelf life because additives like corn syrup act as a preservative. For these reasons, even items like packaged bread and bottled salad dressings will often have some form of simple sugar added to them. This is especially true in the US where corn subsidies have made corn syrup extremely inexpensive for processed food manufacturers. Because many of us consume packaged goods every day, reducing sugar consumption can feel like a difficult task to achieve - but it doesn’t have to be.
Prepare your own food
One simple solution to reducing sugar in our diets is to spend a bit more time cooking at home using mostly fresh, whole ingredients. When the hands that are preparing the food have a vested interest in the long-term health of the consumers of that food, healthier decisions will be made. When we’re cooking for people we love, we will try to strike a healthy balance between achieving deliciousness and adding only sensible amounts of fat, sugar and salt. We will also usually invest a bit more in buying the highest quality starting ingredients we can afford.
Make the right choices when buying packaged foods
When a parent or loving caregiver is preparing food for their child, the decisions made will more often end up being healthy ones. We try to do the best we can for our families. Compare this to the priorities of large food manufacturers. Most often, these corporations want to invest as little as possible in the starting ingredients and then add as much fat, sugar and salt as needed to keep their consumers coming back for more. In this way, their profits are maximized. Responsible food companies are also emerging in recent years, as companies see the value in earning the smart consumer’s trust. Companies that are creating natural fruit-infused waters as alternatives to sweetened drinks are just one example.
Shaping a heart healthy food environment
We, as consumers, can shape our food environment by voting with our food budget. When we spend on sensible, naturally produced and artisanal products, we are sending a powerful message about what people want to eat and feed their families. In this way, we can slowly begin to influence the food products of the future - ensuring that they will support our health and the health of our families. So use your food dollars to “vote sensibly” whenever you can!
By Maya Adam, MD, Adapted from Food, Love, Family, A Practical Guide to Child Nutrition
1. Te Morenga L, Mallard S, Mann J. "Dietary Sugars and Body Weight: Systematic Review and Meta-analyses of Randomised Controlled Trials and Cohort Studies." BMJ. 2013;346:e7492.
2. Xi B, Li S, Liu Z, et al. "Intake of Fruit Juice and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis." PloS One. 2014;9(3):e93471.