Sugar: The Evil Culprit

Sugar: The Evil Culprit

Or is it Simply a Scapegoat for Something Else?

Yes, sugar is consumed in excess in America and in other parts of the world, and yes, it is a contributing factor of many harmful health problems we are seeing in our present day society, but is it really responsible for and deserving of all the negative press that has been aimed in its direction lately? The answer may be yes, but it may be no...

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Sugar in and of itself may not be the antagonistic villain it has been portrayed as being, but with the many ways it has been abused and how it bombards our entire food supply at every angle and lurks hidden behind confusing terms and food labels, it is no wonder that it has grown to be such a feared and scorned ingredient by experts and consumers alike.

When you hear about the recent epidemic and seemingly sudden influx of health problems such as Heart Disease, Cancer, Diabetes, and childhood Obesity, it is normal to want to identify what is to blame and understandable that we are so quick to point the finger when a potential factor is targeted. This is especially true if it allows us to turn the blame away from the true culprit of such problems; ourselves.

If we can put all the blame of our poor state of health onto something external like carbohydrates, or fats, or in this case, sugar, than we feel alleviated of responsibility for the state at which we find ourselves.

But in reality, is it sugar’s fault that we have chosen to consume buckets of it on a daily basis with no regard as to what might result? Is it the FDA’s fault for allowing food companies to add sugar into nearly every food item that is packaged and sold in our grocery stores? Is it Pinterest’s fault for allowing us to overload its boards with delectable looking pictures of sweets and treats galore? Nope.

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The cause of most health problems for many (not all, but many people) is simply that they choose to leave their health in the proverbial hands of someone or something other than themselves. There have been some studies linking sugar to being one of many possible contributing factors to health problems such as increased triglycerides, high cholesterol, increased occurrence of diabetes, cancer, etc.

But while each of these studies have yielded hundreds of articles written by experts, some arguing that sugar is to blame, others saying it is safe and fine to consume, and others who state the studies conducted were not conclusive to identify a direct correlation; it does seem that they all agree on one thing: we are consuming way too much sugar and that the solution to the problems related to the overconsumption of sugar is simply, moderation.

When the American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar (not including the naturally occurring sugars found in foods like fructose in fruit and lactose in milk) and that men consume no more than 9 teaspoons, yet the average American adult is consuming nearly 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, that is NOT moderation.

We all know that sugar is awesome; we love it. It tastes good, it feels good, it looks good, but if you are eating so much of it that it is ruining your health, well, that is not good.

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Sure it is easy to then say, “well sugar is hidden in the foods I am eating so I don’t know I am overeating it.” But what we are really saying when we do that, is “I am too lazy” or “I don’t care enough about my health to take the time to actually read labels and be aware of what I am putting into my body, and would rather just blame someone or something else when I get fat, or sick, or dead.”

This is not a responsible response to make. This is YOUR body, YOUR health, YOUR life, and putting it into the hands of anyone else, especially Corporate America, whose goal in life is not to make sure you are healthy and feel good, but rather simply to make money off of you, is just asinine. And I can say that because that is how I was living even up to less than a year ago.

Even now, when I make poor food choices because I am “too tired” to prepare a healthful meal for myself and my family, or “too busy” to make time to go to the store and buy foods that don’t contain ingredients that I need to Google to know what they are, I am putting my health and the health of my children at risk. I am putting the state of our health into the hands of big corporations; who to them I am merely a dot on a graph and their only concern in regards to me is whether or not I am putting money into their pockets. Asinine.

So how do we go about making sure that what we are putting into our bodies is good for us? Or to know if we are choosing to have things that have been recommended we limit, that we are not consuming them in excess? Well, simple, through education. Read the labels, measure your servings, pay attention to what you are putting into your body rather than blindly shoveling bite after bite of junk into your mouth.

And if you find that you are unable to simply stop overeating sugar in excess and are having trouble finding that necessary balance and staying in a place of moderation; well, then you may want to consider more drastic measures such as a detox or a cleanse in an effort to “reset” your mind and body and to get back on a healthier track.

If you are unsure where to start as far as understanding what you are reading when you look at the labels of a food item, there is an abundance of information available on the internet that will be readily at your fingertips with a simple click of the mouse. For starters, here are a couple of things to know regarding the sugar content of some of the foods you may be eating and how to decipher what the labels mean:


What is the difference between “No Added Sugar” labels and those that state “Sugar-Free”?

“No Added Sugar” and other variations – Food items may only use such terms if they have not had any amount of sugars above 0.5 g added during processing or packaging. They must also not contain any ingredients that contain added sugars (i.e. concentrated fruit juice), or those whose sugar content has been increased through the use of enzymes, (except when the primary purpose of those enzymes was not to increase the sugar content and the increase is insignificant.) Also, the food containing the label, must be replacing a food that normally contains added sugars. It must also be specified if the food is not “low calorie” if it does not meet those requirements to be labeled as such. This may be the case when a food contains naturally occurring sugars that increase the calorie content (i.e. juices).

“Sugar-free” and other variations – In order to be labeled as a “Sugar-free” food, a product must not contain any sugars or sweeteners in amounts above 0.5 g per labeled serving, or customarily consumed amount. This includes naturally occurring sugars, as well as those added. Foods bearing this label must also not contain any ingredients that are sugars or are normally understood by consumers to contain sugar, unless they add such an insignificant amount and are also labeled as adding “a negligible amount of sugar” (or similar label). Foods that are labeled “sugar-free” are also generally understood to be “low-calorie” and so if do not meet the requirements to be labeled as such, must include statements identifying them to the contrary (i.e. “not a low-calorie food”).


So, in summary, a food bearing the label of “no added sugar” may still contain naturally occurring sugars and so should not be assumed to be a low calorie food unless it is also labeled as such. These foods may also contain artificial sweeteners so be sure to read the list of ingredients closely to determine what is in the food you plan to consume.

Foods that say “sugar-free” must contain less than 0.5 g of sugar (natural or added) per labeled serving, or amount that is customarily consumed. These food items may contain sugar substitutes and/or artificial sweeteners, so be sure to read the labels.

If you choose to consume sugar or foods containing added sugars, make sure that you are not replacing nutrient-dense foods with these, but rather fitting them into an otherwise healthy and balanced diet. Make sure that the majority of your calories are coming from foods that provide you with nutritional value and that the treats you have along with your healthy choices are not going to put you into a place of excess.

You can do this by limiting the added sugars you eat through your day, by reading labels and choosing most of what you eat from those that do not contain added sugars. You can eliminate or limit beverages such as sodas and fruit juices which often are loaded with added sugars and consumed in high quantities. Making small changes to start and continuing to cut bad things out little by little and replace them with healthier choices is a great way to move towards an overall healthier lifestyle.


Resources: 

Negative Effects of Sugar

Labeling Terms

FDA: CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21

Added sugar: Don't get sabotaged by sweeteners

The Truth About Sugar

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