Health alert: the dangers of excess sugar

Brown sugar

I’ve wanted to talk about this for some time. Please bear with me as I may seem a little hypocritical when you consider the percentage of recipes on this blog that are sweet. What I want to make you aware of is the fact that excessive amounts of sugar are bad for you. You may already know this. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you don’t really care. Maybe you should care. It is really important for your well being.

Tonight, the American Heart Association came out with a warning that we need to cut the amount of sugar in our diets. They say the average American adult consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day. The average American teenager consumes 34 teaspoons of added sugar a day. When they say “added” they mean on top of the natural sugar we are eating from fruits and other carbohydrates. What does 22 teaspoons of sugar look like? I couldn’t resist finding out. See the picture above. That is an eight inch diameter plate. The pile was about 2 inches high! To put things in perspective, the AHA recommendation is that women should eat no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day and men should eat no more than 9 teaspoons per day.

Where is all of this sugar coming from? It could be coming from soft drinks and sweets but it is likely coming from processed foods. In my opinion, I eat a healthy diet, but there are a few processed foods in my home for convenience. I get these products from health food stores and stores like Trader Joes that don’t use a lot of processed ingredients. Here is what a quick perusal of my pantry turned up:

Trader Joes brand spaghetti sauce: evaporated cane juice.

Pitted kalamata olives packed in extra virgin olive oil imported from Greece: glucose.

S & W organic tomato sauce: organic sugar.

Hain all natural Canola mayonnaise: dehydrated cane juice and honey.

Milton’s multi grain baked snack crackers: sugar and invert cane juice.

Doctor Kracker organic artisan baked spelt crackers: agave syrup, molasses, and barley malt syrup.

Kashi go lean hot cereal: evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup and honey.

The AHA is concerned for us because the extra sugar likely means we are unconsciously consuming extra calories. A lot of us have inactive lifestyles and if we do not get extra exercise to burn off the extra calories, we gain weight and risk heart disease and diabetes. These concerns while valid don’t tell the entire story. Sugar also prematurely ages us. An article in Prevention magazine talks about the damage sugar does to the proteins in our skin. If this is happening to our skin, the biggest organ in our bodies, I wonder what it may be doing to our other organs!

What can we do to protect ourselves? First off, read labels and be aware of what you are buying. Second, cook as much of your own food as you can. It is the only way to really know what is on your plate. As the cook, you can reduce the amount of sugar in your food by adjusting it downward as low as you can tolerate it and as low as a recipe can stand without ruinous results. Know your sugars. While all sugar is bad in excess, some sugar such as honey or molasses have trace nutrients and while they are not exactly health food, you will get a little more added nutrition than if you used processed granulated sugar.

Please let me know your thoughts on this matter. Have you been aware of this issue already? What do you do to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet? Do we as bloggers have a responsibility to show our readers a healthy diet or are we just a tourist stop on the internet foodie trail?

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