According to the Atlantic, Americans’ sugar intake has jumped from 88 pounds annually to 130 pounds in just the last 100 years! Why is this and how has it affected our overall health as a country?
Sugar in America, past to present
One major reason Americans were eating less of this sweetener 100 years ago was that it was less prevalent in their food as it was likely homemade and couldn’t contain hidden sugars like much of our current, packaged food supply (find out where sugar is hiding in your pantry). However, in the fall of 2016, JAMA Internal Medicine medical journal shed light on internal documents from the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) revealing the SRF to have paid Harvard scientists in the 1960s to publish misleading research tying heart disease to dietary fat and cholesterol intake while intentionally downplaying added sugar’s role. This led to the low-fat fad diet craze that sprung up in the subsequent decades and processed food companies started swapping out fat in their products for added sugar to be able to categorize them as “low-fat” while still maintaining taste. This single historical event has shaped the way Americans have been eating and will continue to eat for decades.
How it’s affected our health
So exactly how has this industry-driven shift towards added sugars affected American health? Added sugar comprises about 10% of the average American’s diet but about one in ten Americans get about a quarter of their total calorie intake from added sugar. One study found that over 15 years time, participants whose diet was comprised of at least 25% added sugar were twice as likely to die from heart disease than those whose diets were made up of 10% or less.
High added sugar intake over time can disrupt your body’s ability to properly control your blood sugars in addition to increasing overall body inflammation, potentially leading to chronic illness like diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease, and other metabolic disorders.
Making healthier sugar choices
Before cutting all sugar out of your diet (though one of our staffers tried it!), there’s more to know about the umbrella term of “sugar.” Any sugar, starch, fiber or dairy-containing food is part of the carbohydrate food group and provides us with most of the energy we need to carry out daily activities. Whenever we eat any food containing carbohydrates, they will always be broken down into sugar (or glucose) in order to enter our bloodstream to provide the means for energy production. So really all carbohydrates can be called sugar as that will always be their fate in our bodies.
Simple carbohydrates are what we think of when sugar comes to mind: candy, soda, dessert, juices and sweeteners like cane sugar, honey and syrups, and these are the added sugars that provide empty calories and can lead to chronic disease. While complex carbs are some of the healthiest foods available to us: fruit, veggies, whole grains, seeds and legumes. The best way to make sure that you’re avoiding any unnecessary added sugar in your diet is to choose unprocessed foods, complex carbohydrates and to read nutrition labels which now outlines how much of a food’s given sugar content is from added sugar as opposed to natural sources like fruit.
By learning the history of added sugar in our country and how it’s impacted our health, we can take a step back and make more educated food choices. Start by making small changes like whipping up one of these fruit-based desserts this summer!