Sugar is a substance that causes cravings, encourages the storage of visceral fat, and is 8 times more addictive than cocaine. Companies that sell products with added sugar and high fructose corn syrup want you to believe that fat and salt are the main causes of weight gain, but that’s simply not true. Companies like these encourage us to “get up and move,” but they would never encourage us to eat less sugar because that affects their profits. If you want to learn more about sugar and how it’s killing America, check out Fed Up, a documentary featuring some of my favorite foodies and narrated by Katie Couric. It’s on Netflix! Be prepared to get enraged.
Check out the trailer here:
The average American woman should not consume more than 6 teaspoons (25g) of sugar per day, and the average American man should not consume more than 9 teaspoons (37.5g) of sugar per day (AuthorityNutrition). Daily, the average American unwittingly consumes 19 teaspoons of sugar per day. Added sugar is hiding everywhere, even in our ketchup, because it tastes great and it’s cheap. It’s the easiest, most cost effective way for brands to grab our taste buds’ attention and keep it. Currently, sugar is one of the only nutrients not required by the FDA to be quantified by a percent daily average on food labels. Deceptive labeling (as well as the fact that sugar can be called just about anything, such as agave nectar, barley malt, and blackstrap molasses) can trick Americans into eating more sugar.
Sugar does not have to be harmful for us. In moderation, and with the right combination of nutrients, sugar can be great! Fruit contains natural sugar but also has fiber in its skin and pulp, which helps us to break down sugar more slowly; however, soft drinks, fruit juices, candies, baked goods, and foods labeled as “low-fat” or “low-sodium” contain copious amounts of sugar and should be avoided. The first step to avoiding added sugar is to read labels. Foods like granola bars, cereals, sauces, condiments, and juices that claim to be healthy are responsible for much of America’s unhealthy sugar intake. Start small by eliminating or replacing one high sugar food from your typical diet and continue improving from there.
Sugar is highly addictive, and I did have and STILL have a huge problem with it. It seems like one cookie or one slice of cake at a party sends me into a huge downward spiral of compulsive sugary eating. When I think back to how I got started, I remember feeling so ashamed for eating entire bags of Hershey kisses (which isn’t even that great tasting to begin with, just full of sugar) or for making an entire pint of ice cream disappear while eating television. Lately, I’ve become sort of a food activist who is looking more closely at the marketing and psychology of the habits I’ve formed. I’ve been marketed to and prepared for this kind of lifestyle from early childhood until now. Not only that, but I grew up in the South where everything fried is standard and sweet tea is a staple.
The good news is that I have the power to reshape my habits and form my own ideas about what’s good food now. This past month, I made a bet with myself that I could eat healthy every single day, come in under my calorie goal, have minimal “treats,” and not miss a day of exercise. I did it. This weekend, I partied and had whatever I wanted to eat. It was delicious, but it was hard to bounce back from. However, after just one day back at my normal lifestyle of eating small meals with low sugar, I realize that I have formed some wonderful eating habits over the past 4 years.
That fact, over all else, makes this whole journey worth it. Do I care that I have loose skin or that I’m STILL 25 lbs away from my goal weight? Sure. Yeah, that bugs me sometimes, but you know what? I’m physically healthier and more fit than a lot of the skinny minnies who walk into the gym with me. Most importantly, I can run circles around the old me. The old me couldn’t even run.
What is my advice to those attempting to create healthier lifestyles? Take one item in your typical diet like soda or high-sugar granola bars and eliminate it or replace it with something lower in sugar. Even without watching calorie intake, a change to eliminate sugar should catalyze fat loss. Try it!