Let me say right at the forefront of this post, I love me some sugar. I don't think I'll ever get to the point where I've entirely eliminated sugar from my diet. But the more I read, the more I'm convinced that sugar, along with simple carbohydrates, is at the root of many of the rampant health problems in our culture, and I'm doing all I can to reduce the sugar I serve our family.
In her acclaimed book, Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon points out that the diseases of civilization have increased as our consumption of sugar has increased, and over the years, various studies have linked sugar to heart disease, hyperactivity, behavior problems, lack of concentration, violent tendencies, tooth decay, bone loss, cancer, and of course diabetes.
Furthermore, sugar (as well as refined carbohydrates) actually depletes the body's store of vitamins and nutrients. We've all heard that soda and juice are "empty calories," but Sally Fallon points out that "negative calories" would be a more accurate term. She likens consuming refined sugar and white flour to drawing on a savings account. I don't know about you, but that makes me consider carefully every morsel of sugar I put in my mouth.
Sugar as an occasional treat is one thing, but it seems like almost everything we buy is full of it. And the food industry is sneaky about it too. Sometimes there are 3 or 4 sources of sugar in a single food. Start looking at the labels of the food you buy, and consider how much of it contains sugar. Even spaghetti sauce and peanut butter has sugar in it nowadays.
As we all know know, sugar sells. Just walk down the breakfast aisle at your local supermarket.. Most boxed cereals are loaded with sugar. The snack aisles are full of it too. You can't even avoid sugar in the dairy aisle, with its highly sweetened yogurt products taking up about half the refrigerator space. And don't get me started on the displays at the cash registers.
What REALLY bothers me is how sugar is peddled to our children — the very ones that sugar harms the most. I am at the point where I don't even want to take my 3-year-old to the grocery store anymore because she begs for sugary junk in every aisle and while we wait in line to check out. Even if I don't walk down the snack and cereal aisles, there are free-standing kiosks stacked with sugar-laden snacks located throughout the store.
And for the record, we're just as inundated with the sugary snack attack at the health food store as we are at the conventional grocery store. Organic oreos and cookies sweetened with cane juice are *almost* as bad as the originals, and we just plain can't afford them, so once again, I find myself denying my daughter more than half her requests as we walk the aisles.
Here's a statistic for you (once again, from Nourishing Traditions, via The Kellogg Report):
In 1821, the average sugar intake in American was 10 pounds per person per year; today it is 170 pounds per person, representing over one-fourth the average caloric intake.
Let me repeat — a QUARTER of the calories we consume come from SUGAR. And we wonder why we as a country are getting fatter.
As Marion Nestle states in What To Eat:
Attributing a disease to any one food or food component is always problematic because diets contain many foods, and foods contain a great many components that singly and collectively can affect health. Even so, plenty of other research, circumstantial evidence, and direct observations about sugars and health should be enough to convince anyone other than an industry defender that sugary foods add unneeded calories to the diet, cause metabolic problems, and promote weight gain. Common sense tells you that eating ounces of sugars at any one time — without the modulating effects of fiber and other food components — will raise blood sugar beyond where it needs to be, add unnecessary calories, and encourage weight gain.
All this to say, limiting refined sugar intake and replacing sugary snacks and drinks with whole foods is a wise decision for overall good mental and physical health. My biggest concern is for my children and their performance in school. I have to believe that the large amount of sugar that many children consume contributes to the attention and behavior problems that plague our schools, so I've really been watching and limiting my children's sugar intake lately. I'll share a little bit of what we've been doing, in hopes it will help you if limiting sugar is a priority in your house.
To reduce sugar intake, we buy very few processed foods. I make as much at home as I can, so I can control what goes into our food. At the very least, I try to avoid all refined sugar, corn syrup, fructose, soda, and fruit juices.
I sweeten our baked goods with natural sweeteners such as raw honey, date sugar, maple syrup, or dehydrated cane juice. (Dehydrated sugar cane juice goes by several names — Rapadura and Sucanat are the biggies. I like Sucanat, personally. It has a rich, molasses-y flavor that I find very pleasing.) These natural, unrefined sweeteners have their vitamins and minerals still in tact, so you can actually justify enjoying a sweet treat every once in a while. Or, at least, that's what I tell myself. My waistline likes to tell a different story.
If you're not ready to try the natural sweeteners, try reducing the amount of sugar in your recipes by half. I usually can't tell much difference when I reduce it by 25%, but any more than that, and it's hard to convince the kids to eat it. We're still working on it, though. I figure that over time, our taste buds will adjust.
Limiting sugar is one of those good-for-you things you can do even if you aren't ready to jump wholeheartedly on the "real food" bandwagon. Small changes can make a big difference in overall health and weight control, so I really encourage you to consider where you can cut out some sugar from your diet.
For more information, here's an interesting video I found on YouTube — an excerpt from the movie Fat Head, which I recently watched and highly recommend.