Do you consider yourself someone with a sweet tooth? To be fair, our society relies heavily on this ingredient, to the tune of around 17 teaspoons of added sugar a day per person. That's far above the recommended amount. Sugar consumption in the United States has been on the rise in the past decade. According to the American Heart Association, between 2020/21 and 2021/2022, Americans consumed about 11 million metric tons of sugar! To put that into perspective, that averages about 60 pounds of added sugar a year per person. To provide a visual, that's six 10-pound bowling balls!
To be clear, there is a difference between what's considered added sugar and the naturally occurring type. Fruits, vegetables, grain and dairy all have naturally occurring sugars in them, but they also have high amounts of fiber, minerals and protein. Consuming carbohydrates with this type of sugar is OK and beneficial to your body. For instance, fruits, vegetables and whole grains release the sugar content slowly which offers a steady supply of energy to your cells.
The problem comes in when we get too much of the artificial or added sugars that food manufacturers add to processed food to make it taste better and extend the shelf life. This sugar is much different and is stripped from the beneficial properties of whole foods, fruits and vegetables. This highly processed sugar releases quickly into the body and can have a detrimental effect on overall health. The tricky part is the sugar is hidden in unsuspecting foods.
According to Harvard Health, in the American diet, the top sources are soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy and most processed foods. But added sugar is also present in items that you may not think of as sweetened, like soups, bread, cured meats and ketchup.
And, to be honest, our bodies are not doing well handling the added sugar. Some of the common complications with high sugar intake include high blood pressure, weight gain, higher risk of diabetes, overall inflammation and fatty liver disease. It also puts you at a higher risk for a heart attack and stroke.
But, what can the average person do to avoid so much sugar consumption when it's everywhere?
Start simple. Making a shift to include more whole-food, plant-based foods into your regular diet can have a huge impact. Try to avoid eating processed foods and read labels carefully for those you do choose to eat. Anything that includes ingredients such as corn syrup, brown sugar, fruit juice concentrates, malt sugar or molasses has hidden sugar added that can contribute to your overall daily sugar intake. Also, take note of the number of grams of sugar per serving.
And, of course, getting adequate sleep, exercising and taking part in healthy activities and hobbies will also contribute to your overall health. And, it's OK to have a sweet treat once in a while to satisfy that sweet tooth. Just tell the sweet tooth fairy to visit occasionally.