Unless you live in a cave, you know about the diet-related surge in overweight and obesity in America. What one thing has done the most damage to our diet? After much pondering, my answer is “sugar”. Better said, the problem is that sugar is the #1 additive in processed foods. The experts don’t agree on how much sugar the average American is eating, but a good estimate is 30 teaspoons a day. You don’t put that much sugar in your food? You don’t have to; it’s already there. A large bowl of ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, an 18 oz. soda and candy bar for snacks during the day, and a slice of cake after dinner adds up to 30 tsp of sugar. And that’s just a fraction of what we eat in a day. The foods in our diet are ever changing, but sugar is a constant.
My engineering career was in the medical device field. During those years I gained an appreciation for the limits (and cost) of therapy for the chronic diseases. I learned one big lesson: Because these diseases generally aren’t curable, prevention is much better than treatment. We were always looking for the next new application of technology for treatment. I was fortunate to be part of a start-up company with a revolutionary treatment for brain aneurysms—for someone with a treatable aneurysm, this was a big deal. If I were to invest in the next “big thing” today, I would put my money in companies working on diabetes.
Although overweight and obesity are risk factors for diabertes, no one sets out to get diabetes—the diagnosis usually comes as a surprise. Like high blood pressure, diabetes is a silent killer; a person is typically diabetic for seven years before the symptoms bring them to a doctor. Some 24 million Americans are diabetic; six million don’t know they have the disease. Most people have type 2 diabetes—mainly caused by too much sugar in the diet—which is usually preventable. (Not so with Type 1, a tragic autoimmune disease typically diagnosed in childhood.)
Our high sugar intake doesn’t just ruin our figure; it ruins our health. Sugar is linked to a host of diseases besides diabetes, including atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, some cancers (including breast and prostate cancer), autoimmune diseases like arthritis and Parkinson’s disease, kidney disease, and so on. I forgot to mention dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. And the meanest cut of all—accelerated aging.
Later this week we’ll post a review of the best book about dietary sugar. There’s also an upcoming post on Word of Wisdom Living as a protection against breast cancer.
Of the 52 Healthy Changes, five address the problem of too much sugar in our diet. We previously addressed the problem of sugary drinks and candy-like breakfast cereals. The next biggest source of sugar is candy. Walk through your grocery store and observe the space dedicated to candy, including the treats conveniently located by the cash register. Though this candy is sweet, have you noticed that much of it doesn’t even taste good? We all enjoy an occasional treat; the goal of this change is focused on the word occasional:
This is a change you can live with. Remember there isn’t a limit on the sugars in fruits and other natural foods, which come with a host of protective nutrients. And if you’re baking a homemade chocolate cake, feel free to bring a piece by my house.
There will be two more Healthy Changes about sugar; one will address diet drinks and how they actually cause us to eat more sugar. The goal of these changes is to bring our intake below the American Heart Association recommendation of 6 teaspoons (25 grams) daily for women, and 9 tsp. (37 grams) for men. Yes, the guys are allowed a little more; the rule is based on average body weight.
Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change reminder card. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.