The label on one popular cookie sold in major health food stores and grocery chains advertises that their food is vegan, non-GMO, doesn’t contain any soy or diary, and is packed with lots of protein and healthy fiber. This seems like a good deal, except when you consider that one serving can contain up to 15 grams of sugar and that one serving is a half a cookie! Seriously, who eats half a cookie!
The truth is, sugar is everywhere, you’re probably consuming more sugar than you realize, and the dangers of consuming too much of it are still very real.
Having some sugary treats on special occasions is not a big deal, but in today’s world, every occasion is a special occasion when it comes to sugar consumption. Consider that 300 years ago the average American consumed four pounds of sugar a year. Today, our food processing methods have gotten us to the point where the US Department of Agriculture estimates that the average American consumes more than a 66 pounds of it a year!
Sixty-six pounds of sugar a year comes out to 82 grams a day (19.5 teaspoons). How much is too much? According to the American Heart Association, a general guideline is that men should consume no more than 25 grams of sugar a day and women 38 grams. For children, depending on their age and gender, the range is 12-25 grams. These numbers are consistent with the recommendations of the World Health Organization, but consider that they believe sugar should come from natural sources such as honey and fruit.
One reason our sugar intake continues to rise is it may alter our brain chemistry. According to research by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse using brain scans, sugar affects our brain similar to the way cocaine and alcohol create addiction. So maybe, just maybe, it might be better to stay well below the limits of these credible medical and governmental organizations?
One science journalist who has taken up the cause to remind us about the dangers of sugar is Gary Taubes. Among his books that touch on the dangers of sugar are “Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease” (2007), “Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It” (2010), and “The Elusive Benefits of Undereating and Exercise” (2017). His latest book is “The Case Against Sugar “(2017), a 384-page journalistic journey into the science and politics of sugar consumption.
To be fair, Taubes is not the only author to write about the dangers of sugar. Here are a few popular titles you might have heard of: “Pure, White and Deadly: How Sugar is Killing Us and What We Can Do to Stop It,” “Sugar Blues,” “Sugar Has 56 Names,” “Sugar Nation: The Hidden Truth Behind America’s Deadliest Habit and the Simple Way to Beat It,” and “The Real Truth About Sugar.”
Focusing on “The Case Against Sugar,” Taubes’s makes a strong case showing the relationship between excessive sugar consumption and the increasing rates of diabetes and obesity. But he doesn’t stop there, as he also explores the links to hypertension, heart disease, and even cancer and Alzheimer’s. Regarding Alzheimer’s, Taubes says that researchers have discovered “a host of mechanisms by which insulin plays a role in the brain that could go awry with insulin resistance in ways that might either cause or exacerbate the Alzheimer’s process.”
What’s also makes Taubes’ book different is his copious research into the politics of sugar. He discusses the creation of the Sugar Research Foundation, and the grants paid to Harvard scientists with the goal of downplaying the role of sugar in heart disease (shifting it to saturated fat). And because sugar only contains 16 calories a teaspoon, it was easy to convince the American public that “a calorie is a calorie” and that if you’re too fat, you’re eating too much, not exercising enough, or both. (Taubes, a former smoker, recognizes how sugar can be addicting; and as a father of two, he knows how difficult it can be to keep kids away from sugar.)
Another fascinating discussion in “The Case Against Sugar” is the sugar’s industry attack on the manufacturers of artificial sugars (such as cyclamate), which posed a threat to their profits. Taubes said that sales of artificial-sugar drinks “increased from 7.5 million cases in 1957 to fifty million in 1962, and then began doubling yearly. By 1964, they made up 15 percent of soft-drink sales….” The sugar industry responded with million-dollar advertising campaigns against artificial-sugar and nearly a million dollars on research focused on “research designed to force the FCA to remove cyclamates from the GRAS [“generally recognized as safe”] list and have them banned.”
Based on the preponderance of scientific research on sugar and the rise in obesity and diabetes, perhaps we need to start looking at sugar as less of a guilty pleasure and more as a toxic substance? In any case, it wouldn’t hurt to take a closer look at your current sugar consumption and see how you can cut down.