Is Sugar Slowly Poisoning Your Family?
Eating sugar less means more good health
My mother is a health food addict. Growing up, if my sisters and I wanted something sweet, my mother gave us locally grown honey and carob. Our cookies were made with whole wheat flour, honey and raisins. So, time for a confession: one of my favorite memories is when I got to go to a wedding. I loved the celebratory atmosphere. It felt like hope and love and promise and the world laid out in front of me. But most of all, I especially looked forward to the wedding cake! I loved how light and sweet the cake tasted. Oh, and I loved the sugar high! Everything about weddings felt sweet and abundant and beautiful.
For many years I had a strong, positive association with happiness and eating wedding cake. When I got married, I even froze the top of my wedding cake so I could take it out a year later and have that wonderful feeling all over again. I’m not alone. Most Americans – and most people in civilized countries – have a love affair with sugar, and have strong positive associations with it: weddings, birthdays, holidays, dessert. We love sugar in every form it comes in. And therein lies the problem.
Sugar is part of the American Dream, right?
In the United States, sugar is everywhere. It’s in almost every commercial food product, and it’s a cheap high. So we eat a tremendous amount of it. In 1999, the average person consumed over 100 pounds more sugar a year compared to the average person in 1822. The fascinating thing is, unless you’re a hummingbird, your body just doesn’t need all that sugar; you can get most of the sugar you need from complex carbohydrates, which your body converts to sugar anyway. So, how and when did the American Dream – and modern culture – start being so tied to sugar?
A brief history of sugar
It all started off thousands of years ago with the extraction of cane juice from the wild sugar cane plant, which eventually led to the domestication of sugar cane in tropical Southeast Asia. Next, someone got creative in India and figured out how to create dry cane sugar granules from the cane juice, and over the centuries the production process became more (pardon the pun) refined. Of course, once sugar consumption picked up, so did demand, and farmers cultivated and refined more and more sugar, until it really took off in the middle ages in the Islamic world. From there, cultivation of cane sugar moved to the West Indies and the American Tropics in the 16th century. Production grew from the 1600′s to the 1800′s. During the 1800′s and 1900′s, beet sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other sweeteners made their way into our culture and our diet.
The result is that, for hundreds of years now we’ve had cheap, tasty, abundant refined sugar. And we all naturally crave it: our taste buds sense the sweet, and our brain associates that taste with high-energy nutrients. So, it just makes sense that we would love sugar. What doesn’t make sense is why we would end up craving it far beyond our need for it, to the point that it’s slowly poisoning us.
If you knew it was a poison, would you keep it around the house?
In “Sugar: The Bitter Truth”, Robert Lustig a specialist on pediatric hormone disorders and a leading expert in childhood obesity at the UC San Francisco School of Medicine, makes the claim that sugar, when consumed too much – and too much is way less than you think it is – is a toxin. To arrive at that conclusion, let’s review the basics of how sugar works in your body.
Eating any type of sugar – cane, high-fructose corn syrup, even refined carbohydrates like white flour – spikes blood sugar levels. In reaction, your pancreas sends in the insulin, which mops up the sugar as if you were sloppy and spilled something in your body, and then your blood sugar levels drop below where they were before. Then you feel tired and low-energy, so the first thing you want is more sugar!
That constant input of sugar messes with your immune system. In fact, the effectiveness of your immune system is reduced by nearly 50% when even small amounts of sugar are consumed. If Lustig is right about sugar being a toxin, this is where the problem lies: a depressed immune system makes you more susceptible to all sorts of chronic ailments. Even worse, sugar is the likely dietary cause of several other chronic ailments widely considered to be diseases of Western lifestyles, including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, metabolic syndrome and many common cancers.
Get my family to stop eating sugar? You must be crazy!
Yes, you and your family love sugar. We all do. It’s part of our physiology, and part of our culture. Yet every time we over-indulge at a birthday party or other celebration, or even during an afternoon coffee break (and don’t get me started on coffee!), we are slowly weakening our body’s natural defense mechanism, over-taxing our organs, and slowly poisoning ourselves.
Giving up sugar is really hard, especially in our culture. I know from personal experience. It’s not just the sugar, it’s the emotions you attach to the sugar. Most people need to ease off sugar gradually. Some, like my husband, can go cold turkey. The rest of us have to crowd it out slowly by filling up our diet with healthy substitutions. After years of substitutions, one afternoon, when I was having my usual dark chocolate and almonds, I suddenly realized that I didn’t even want to eat the chocolate any more. Breakthrough!
So, now that I’ve scared everyone (stop crying kids, here’s a Lara bar) about the evils of sugar, here is a list of things that I’ve done to keep that sweet taste my family naturally craves without doing anywhere near as much damage. Let’s keep our families healthy together!
18 things you can do to reduce your family’s sugar intake
- Substitute flavored mineral water for soda or juice
- Use “no sugar added” fruit preserves on whole grain toast instead of jam or jelly
- Eat unsweetened dark chocolate covered almonds instead of candy
- Use 100% whole grain instead of white flour products
- Stop adding sugar to foods like tea, fruit or breakfast cereal
- Eat balanced meals of approximately 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat.
- Use fruit as dessert such as baked apples, poached pears, or pineapple drizzled with a bit of dark chocolate
- Cut down the on amount of sugar in recipes by 1/4, then 1/3, then 1/2, replacing it with apple sauce or bananas
- Cut out meals that revolve around sugar like pancakes or waffles
- Eat vegetables at every meal (such as a veggie scramble for breakfast) to fill you up with healthy carbs
- Try Stevia in iced tea or lemonade. It won’t spike your blood sugar and you will still get the sweet taste you crave
- Brush your teeth right after a meal to cut cravings
- Snack on nut butters and apples, veggies and hummus
- Eat whole foods found in nature instead of manufactured food-like substances
- Keep cut-up veggies on hand for quick, healthy snack options
- Take a good quality vitamin and mineral supplement
- Get enough sleep
- Exercise regularly
Reduce your refined sugar intake at every meal.
- At every meal and snack
- Stronger immune system
- Higher energy
- More ability to concentrate
- Diminished risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease
- Better sleep
Clicking the button below will take you to a page where you can add a reminder to your calendar for Eat Less Sugar. You must have a Simple Daily Change account to set up calendar reminders.