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?



  1. Kevin said,

    August 25, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Does this mean no Red Bull?? AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!
    I switched from sugar to Splenda™ and now to Stevia in my coffee. (Hoping this helps a little…)

    • Mimi said,

      August 25, 2009 at 4:21 pm

      I can’t imagine you without Red Bull.

  2. drfugawe said,

    August 26, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    As a diabetic, I’ve spent my life changing bad eating habits, and that’s the key to the sugar addiction thing – and the U.S. is surely addicted, but Mexico is worse! The behavioral science folks tell us any bad habit can be broken in 6 weeks to 3 months, and the secret is to always substitute one behavior for another – and consistency. If you want to change anything, you must convince yourself you can – and then you will.

  3. Mimi said,

    August 26, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    I agree. You really need to want to change your habits but sticking to a change for several weeks is truly key to making the change a habit.

    As you probably know since you need to read labels, being aware of what is in your food is difficult when processed foods are involved. I am reading The End of Overeating by Dr. David Kessler. He made a point that food companies are required to list ingredients in the order of magnitude they appear in the recipe. If a company wants to break up the total sugar by using for instance: sugar, maltodextrin, honey and molasses, those separate ingredients will fall lower in the list making it seem like sugar isn’t the major ingredient. So sneaky and so difficult for us when we are rushed reading labels in the supermarket.

  4. pragmaticattic said,

    August 30, 2009 at 1:32 am

    Thanks for bringing up this issue, Mimi. I agree with you that it does create a conflict for food bloggers. I think that by encouraging people to do their own baking we are encouraging healthier eating simply because the ingredients are less processed and we are aware of how much sugar is in there. That said, I agree that we should also try to post advice about making recipes with less sugar and with more whole grains. Refined white flour is an issue, as well.

  5. Mimi said,

    August 30, 2009 at 2:27 am

    Thank you!

    I also feel that we are encouraging people to cook more healthfully even though it may be our take on pizza or sweets (which is what my blog has been looking like lately).

    You are so right! Refined flour is definately as much of an issue as sugar (that’s why it tastes so damn good!). I’ve always hoped I can be a good influence on people by limiting it’s use and adding whole grain flours into my cooking. I know I feel so much better when I eat less refined carbs.

  6. February 20, 2010 at 2:28 am

    […] little maple syrup for the granulated sugar (Bloggers beware: Do not print controversial posts like the sugar is bad for you post if you know that family members such as boyfriends are reading your blog, you’ll never be […]

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