Yes, it is unkind of me to write about this topic just after the annual Oct-Jan sugarfest, but in light of news, I must. Added sugar is apparently much more than non-nourishing calories…and not in a good way. Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco reviewed 8,000 scientific papers regarding the link between added sugar and chronic disease. These scientists are on pretty solid ground when they declare that this pervasive food ingredient is a major contributor to the escalating trends in fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, “syndrome X”, heart disease and of course, obesity. (There is a growing belief that cancer and Alzheimer’s disease should be included on that list.)
Understand that we are just talking here about added sugars, not those that occur naturally for example in an apple. The obvious sources of added sugar are the likes of candy, cookies, cake, pies, toaster pastries and donuts. But, the worst offenders are sweet drinks such as sodas, sports and energy beverages. Although they aren’t usually mentioned, we shouldn’t overlook coffee drinks–a Starbucks® Venti Caramel Macchiato is loaded with 10 teaspoons of sugar! Does it matter if the sweetener is cane sugar, beet sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, etc.? No, not really…and get this: added sugars go by another 57 names!
In a Chicago Tribune article, Barbara Sadick said that the lead researcher in that massive scientific review, Laura A. Schmidt, PhD, explained that sugars are added to almost 75% of all packaged food products.
Here are some other shocking tidbits from the article:
• “[Dr. Dean Schillinger] pointed out that during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, 1,500 American soldiers lost a limb in combat. In that same period, 1.5 million people in the U.S. lost limbs to amputations from Type 2 diabetes, a preventable disease.”
• “[Pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig, author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease] said that more than half of the U.S. population is sick with metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors for chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and liver disease that are directly related to the excessive consumption of added sugars in the Western diet.”
Don’t count on the FDA to offer real guidance on food labels any time soon. Although the total grams of sugar are listed in the Nutrition Facts Panel, we are not informed about which are naturally-occurring or added sugars. Most importantly, we aren’t told what constitutes a safe daily intake of sugar. Given that even a relatively small amount can be harmful, the lobbyists for Nabisco, Kellogg’s, Generals Mills, Nestle, etc. will likely stall any effort to put warnings on labels for decades.
While we are waiting for food policies, economics and market factors to become more health-supportive, we had better take matters into our own hands. Perhaps instead of worrying about whether to eat a diet that is strictly defined as low carb, low fat, paleo, etc., we should just work at eliminating added sugar—added sugar is not a significant part of any type of diet that has been touted as healthful. It may be most practical to aim for zero added sugar because we will probably still get a lot accidentally. Read more in my article on how sugar spikes our blood sugar and ways to avoid those problems.