Our Love Affair With Sugar: Sweet Treat or Public Enemy Number One?
Sugar is getting a lot of negative press of late. Books like David Gillespie’s “Sweet Poison” and Dr. Robert Lustig and John Yudkin’s “Pure, White, and Deadly” have gotten us nutrition buffs into a right panic over taking even the smallest bite of a cupcake at our niece’s 8th birthday party. But just how bad for you is sugar anyway? How much are Britons really eating, and how much is too much?
According to the World Health Organization, an adult with an average body mass index (BMI) should eat no more than 25 grams of sugar per day – the equivalent of approximately 6 teaspoons-full. While this may seem like a manageable amount, take note – this does not account for the sugar that is already in our food. And it is in a lot of our food. In fact, it seems like it is in just about everything. For instance, while you may think to yourself that the one teaspoon of sugar you’ve allowed yourself in your morning cuppa is “just a little bit of sugar”, what you need to take into account is that the ketchup that you put on your burger at lunch also has one teaspoon of sugar per 4 grams (equivalent to a tablespoon – about the amount that you would put on a burger), so there’s 2 of your 6 a day. Then there ‘s the can of soda that you had with your meal that has a whopping 36 grams of sugar (on average, that’s a low estimate for some brands), which is another nine teaspoons of sugar. Whoops.
It’s not hard to see how the wheels can quickly fall off when it comes to sugar consumption. Up until recently, there have been no hard and fast guidelines for total sugar intake in the UK, with packaging reflecting a 90g “total sugar” guideline that has been on labelling in the UK and all over the European union. However, 90g is 22.5 teaspoons-full of sugar, nearly four times the World Health Organization’s guidelines. Add to that the fact that packaging often reflects daily reference intakes instead of “per serving” intake guidelines, and it’s easy to see how an excessive amount of sugar intake has slipped right past us, unnoticed.
The BBC recently reported that on average, adults in the UK are taking-in up to 58 grams of sugar per day, children are taking-in 60 grams, and teenagers are taking-in as much as 74! This number is indeed staggering, but is it really that big of a deal?
As it turns out, it probably is that big of a deal. In addition to having virtually no essential nutrients and the potential to rot your teeth, sugar also contains fructose, which makes your liver work overtime while it turns the sugar into fat and stores it. Over time, overloading your liver with sugar can lead to a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
We all know that sugar is a big contributor to insulin resistance and type II diabetes, but surprisingly, there are also a whole bunch of other conditions that sugar may also be at least partly responsible for. Sugar causes inflammation in the body, and chronic, repeated inflammation can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, heart attacks, and many types of cancer.
With all of this new found knowledge, it’s easy to see what all of the fuss is about. The question is, will it be enough to get us as a nation to say no when the biscuit tray comes around?
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