Experts Set Sugar Limits in an Effort to Combat Obesity

There is no arguing that the obesity epidemic in this country is caused by multiple factors. Among them is our increase in calories — mainly coming from refined sugars.
Candice Wong, a UCSF cardiovascular epidemiologist and a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association says, “The average American caloric intake has increased by about 150 to 300 (daily) calories in the last 30 years…it’s coming from processed foods, half of it from sugared beverages.”

While lack of movement is also a strong contributing factor, our sugar intake is finally getting addressed in a powerful way. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom recently suggested that San Francisco become the first city in the United States to charge retailer suppliers of sugary beverages.
Also, for the first time ever (and at least a decade behind, in my opinion) the American Heart Association has taken a stand and called for a cap on added sugar consumption — with recommendations that most women limit their intake of added sugars to only 100 calories a day and that men take in only 150 calories a day. (Added sugars are those that aren’t naturally found in foods like fruits and plain dairy products.)
For a majority of women, that equates to less than one 12-ounce can of soda; men could have the soda plus a very small chocolate chip cookie.

The biggest single contributor to added sugars is high fructose corn syrup, which became a big hit with manufacturers in the 70’s.  Back then,  Americans consumed about 9 teaspoons a day of fructose, according to a 2008 study. By the mid-1990s, consumption nearly doubled to 14 teaspoons a day. Today, the average American guzzles about 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, mostly as fructose, according to the National Cancer Institute. Tragically, the young consume the most – teenage boys average about 34 teaspoons of sugar every day (that is over 2/3 cup of added sugar).

What does this mean?

High fructose corn syrup is extremely unhealthy, disrupting metabolism and cellular communication in a way that is believed to be linked to metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and diabetes. In a study of more than 6,000 people (the Framingham Heart Study), people who drank at least one soft drink daily had a higher risk for developing metabolic syndrome compared with people who did not often have a soft drink. The Nurse’s health study supports the negative effects of soda, demonstrating soda drinkers to average ten pounds heavier and be twice as likely  to develop diabetes over an 8 year time span.

Think diet soda is a better option? Think again. Diet soda drinkers tend to weigh more than regular soda drinkers, according to a study conducted at Perdue.

Unfortunately, even eschewing sodas doesn’t mean you’ll effortlessly keep sugars at bay.  Manufacturers cleverly slip sweeteners into all sorts of products you wouldn’t think of — crackers, spaghetti sauce, chips, sauces on frozen or packaged entrees, and almost anything they can get away with. The sweet taste is one that has a powerfully alluring effect on human beings, and food manufacturers make the most of this fact.  It truly is a case of “Buyer Beware” out there; label reading is an essential skill in navigating a grocery store these days.

Meanwhile, Mayor Newsom and others are looking at making it harder for us to get our hands on sugar. While suggested limits and taxes may be helpful, a nation addicted to sugar won’t be so easily dissuaded.

If obesity, diabetes, hypoglycemia, metabolic syndrome or other blood sugar diseases run in your family, it is important to begin to get savvy about your food labels to prevent a similar future. Make it a priority to eliminate high fructose corn syrup from your home, and be mindful that common dishes such as the pancakes and sweet and sour chicken you order will likely contain added sugars as well.  Become a sleuth at detecting hidden sugars and keep your intake of sweets down whenever possible.

Sources: Seattle P.I. October 12, 2009 (click the source for a list of the amount of calories from sugar in several food items)