We all love sugar, from the moment it hits our taste buds at whatever age our parents gave it to us we were hooked. I’ve heard parents exclaim, my baby loved ice cream the moment she tried it at age 4 months, really? This surprises you?
Sugar is like crack. Once you’ve had it, you always want it (not that I’ve tried crack, but so I’m told). The more you consume, the more you want, it is the world’s favourite legal drug (unlike coffee, it’s available from almost birth). The average American consumes 165 to 180lbs of the stuff per year. Not necessarily in its snowy, white, crystalline form from a sugar bowl, but it is in almost everything we eat these days. The manufacturers of any processed foods know how to get us and keep us addicted.
Pull a box of cereal or granola bars out of your pantry and check the ingredients. You aren’t just looking for “sugar,” here are some of the common terms used to mislead consumers, but they are all sugar: fructose, dextrose, maltose (anything with “ose”); corn syrup, sorghum syrup, rice syrup(anything that has syrup after it); honey; agave; barley malt, added fruit juice and probably a few more, but you get the idea. Since ingredients are listed in order of quantity, companies can make it seem like there is less sugar in a product by labelling it under its various pseudonyms. Just check the label for the amount of total sugar in the product, this includes naturally occurring sugar as well as sugar added to the product by the manufacturer.
Advocates for better labelling had asked that manufacturers be required to show both the amount of natural sugar in a product as well as the added sugar, but unfortunately the government did not enforce this requirement and only total sugars need be shown. The split between sugars would be nice to know so in a product such as baby food, you would know if the sugar is intrinsic from the fruit itself, or if the manufacturer has “helped” to pump up sweetness. There are lots of foods that have quite a bit of sugar added to them including the plain Shreddies I used to think were a “non-sugary” cereal.
Food descriptions are used to market a product, so be wary of terms like “natural”. There is no control over what is termed “natural”, thus natural does not mean healthy. For example arsenic is “natural” but I would guess most people wouldn’t call it healthy. If baby food is labelled all natural, it could mean it includes fruit, fruit juices and fructose which are all “natural” but do you really want your infant to have pureed fruit which is naturally sweet, sweetened further with “natural” sweeteners?
So you might think the alternative is to drink diet pop, chew sugar-free gum etc., because you are watching your sugar intake. And you would be correct in that you are reducing the unhealthy quantity of sugar you are ingesting, but instead you are putting chemicals into your body that have been linked to things like cancer and tumors. Many diet pops, for example, in their regular form have as much as 10 teaspoons of sugar, when an adult male’s recommended daily intake should not exceed 9 teaspoons (6 tsp for a woman). So, it would seem to make sense to substitute with diet drinks and other “diet” or “sugar free” foods instead, but many contain aspartame(also called NutraSweet and Equal), a chemical which has an interesting history (you can read more about it just search Monsanto and aspartame together). For our purposes I will only suggest that there may be concerns regarding its use, even though the U. S Food and Drug Administration terms it as “generally recognized as safe”.
I have noticed some diet products are moving from Aspartame to sucralose(aka Splenda). Once again this is “Generally Recognized as Safe”, though there is some concern about adverse effects ranging from gastrointestinal problems to headaches and skin rashes, and as it was only introduced around 2000, long term safety research would not yet be available.
The healthier option would be to eat more whole foods and less processed foods. Eat real fruit instead of fruit juices or sauces, fresh or frozen vegetables rather than processed dinners and whole grain oats instead of sweetened instant oatmeals. I know there is a time savings in preparing some of the processed foods, where you can go from package to table with only a couple of minutes of work, but at what cost? A simple, whole foods, tasty meal can be prepared in a relatively short time and aren’t you worth it?
Just like any other drug, coming off of sugar can actually produce withdrawl symptoms, and I have experienced them, they are real. Intense cravings, moodiness, headaches and more. Thus it is best to reduce your sugar intake gradually over time. This is also more likely to result in a permanent lifestyle change. One suggestion to consider, is start looking at food labels to see exactly how much sugar is in the foods you are currently consuming. Then start making healthier choices at the grocery store.
I know it can be hard to believe at first, but you really will come to enjoy the natural sweetness of whole foods and actually find the sweetness of processed foods as unpleasantly sweet. Give it a try, start slow, be aware, read labels and don’t give up. You deserve to have the healthiest body possible, after all, there is only one wholly unique YOU!