We’ve all heard that eating too much sugar is bad for us, but we keep eating it despite the health risks. Added sugar is found in the majority of food at the grocery store, which is part of the reason children and adolescents obtain 16 percent of their daily calories from added sugar. Recently, the American Heart Association released a statement advising that they should be consuming no more than 25 grams of added sugar daily.
I realize plenty of you are skeptical about new recommendations like this one. For decades you may have been avoiding fat because the experts told you to, only to recently hear them say fat isn’t really the enemy. Mostly, if you’re reading articles like mine, you want a few quick tips to healthier living you can put to daily use. Like me, you’ve probably spent a lot of time sifting through articles that simply haven’t helped you much (if any at all).
Sure, there’s plenty of flawed and limited research, but we can’t ignore all the new information out there. There’s no denying that sugar provides our bodies with zero essential nutrients.
Added sugar disrupts our bodies’ natural order.
Sugar disrupts or causes insulin resistance, sapping our energy and leaving us feeling less than full. That’s why we can drink several cans of Coke but then still eat a full meal. And those calories from added sugar get deposited as fat in all the wrong places. On top of that, all the processed foods we eat with added sugar (like snack bars, ice cream or even cereal) take away from the beneficial nutrients we could be getting from “real food.”
Dr. Miriam Vos, lead author of the AHA study, recommends eating no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day. The motivation, perhaps, has been lacking up until now. But with children and adults less active and more sedentary than ever before, diet has become even more important in maintaining a person’s health. If we’re not burning off all that added sugar, our body can’t make use of it immediately, and that’s why so much of it gets turned into fat.
Old habits stick with us.
Children who eat lots of sugar tend to eat fewer fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products that are good for their heart health, according to Vos.
Researchers like Vos often focus on children because it is so important to teach healthy habits as early as possible. I don’t blame my parents for my choosing to binge eat or stress eat many times over the years. I was often so busy playing sports as a kid that it didn’t really matter what I ate, anyway. Pizza, burgers, french fries or candy bars would all get burned off exercising later-but when the exercise became less frequent, my metabolism slowed. Pretty quickly, I started gaining weight and was understandably unhappy about this. What did I do to feel better? I ate, ate and ate.
It’s taken me years to teach myself to not turn to food for solace. I have other ways of coping now-I exercise, discuss my problems, or distract myself with work or projects around the house. Still, though, every now and then, my first instinct is to eat anything in sight.
New habits can be learned, but it’s a whole lot easier if kids are taught at an early age that food can’t fix all our problems. If they learn to associate fruits, vegetables and well-balanced meals with a good mood and a productive day, that’s a habit that will serve them well in life.
A real connection between sugar and weight gain exists in young adulthood and beyond.
Here is a chart from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows how many calories Americans consume from added sugar by age group. Here is another chart taken from the CDC used in a Washington Post article about weight gain by age group. Now, I can’t prove one definitely causes the other, but the numbers seem to coincide on several levels. Calories from added sugar (for men and women) are highest between ages 20 and 39. They’re slightly lower (but still far too high) from ages 40-59. Men go from an average of 14.1 percent of calories from added sugar to 12.5 percent. Women go from 14.5 percent to 12 percent. There’s not a significant drop-off until individuals are 60 years and over.
Why does this matter?
Because starting in our 20s, activity levels begin to decrease and our metabolism starts slowing down naturally. However, our cravings seem to get worse, and we turn to processed foods high in added sugar to survive the workweek. As a result, we start to gain weight, and this weight peaks in our 50s. If it hasn’t already killed us, only in our 60s does our weight begin to go down again-which is the same time added sugar consumption starts to fall.
Sure, there are plenty of other reasons for this and tons of mitigating factors, but rest assured, added sugar is not your friend. Do yourself and your family a favor by decreasing added sugar consumption.
Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.