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Unfortunately, the majority of sugar found in the average diet falls into the category of refined sugar… aka white sugar.
The amount of sugar that the average American consumes has gone up drastically in a short period. At the end of the 1800s, an average per person of 5 pounds of sugar was eaten per year. In the 1950s and 1960s, the refined-food industry took off in the United States and by 1975, the average American was consuming a staggering 118 pounds of sugar per year. Now the average person eats 137.5 pounds per year. This overwhelming statistic converts to the average American today are eating 2-3 pounds of sugar per week.
The reason white granulated sugar is highly addicting is because our bodies are programmed to crave and want sweet food. Humans are made this way because a long time ago it was hard to come across fruit and sweetened food. Now these foods are extremely prevalent. You have to go no further than a grocery store, gas station, bakery, or fast food joints to find copious amounts of sugar-laden foods.
Not only is sugar more prevalent in our diet, but you can also find sugar in almost everything including peanut butter, mayonnaise, bread, salad dressings, processed foods, and ketchup. Sugars in the form of sucrose (table sugar), dextrose (corn syrup), and high fructose corn syrup are some of the biggest culprits for the increase in bad sugars in our diets.
Even though the American Dietary Guidelines states that there should be no more than eight teaspoons of sugar per day in the average 2000-calorie diet for adults, many conventional foods have much more than that in one serving and our children are now being raised on sugar.
The American Heart Association recommends we consume less than ten teaspoons of sugar a day (This is equivalent to one 12-ounce can of coke). The average American eats over double that at 22 teaspoons a day. And the average child consumes 32 teaspoons a day. It is staggering to realize that even though children are smaller, on average, they are eating the equivalent of one more can of coke EVERY DAY.
We are drinking a large amount of our empty calories with 33% of sugar consumption comes from soft drinks. And alarmingly, a 2001 Harvard School of Public Health study revealed that each soda or juice drink a child drinks per day increased the individual child’s odds of becoming overweight by 1.6 times.
Many negative effects come from sugar in the diet, especially when it comes to children. Research seems to link an increase in sugar consumption to various health issues. Studies have linked it as a primary culprit for obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. There are also some connections of eating more sugar with high blood pressure, blood sugar concerns, mood instabilities, acne, headaches, fatigue, hyperactivity, aching joints, and tooth decay. It is still debatable whether or not it has on effect on hyperactivity and attention. However, many healthcare practitioners and parents have noted changes in attention, agitation, and hyperactivity when refined sugar is reduced or eliminated from a child’s diet.
What is not debatable about the increase in sugar in the American diet is the fact that by increasing the amount of sugar in the diet, the amount of nutrient dense food in the diet is drastically decreased. On top of that, sugar also robs the body of vitamins and minerals. Refined sugar not only contains no nutrients but also for the sugar to be metabolized it must draw on the body’s reserve of vitamins and minerals. When most calories are coming from sugar instead of nutrient dense food, there are major side effects, especially over the long term.
Children are no longer eating the fruits and vegetables and other nutrient dense food they need to develop and grow properly. Most children are now passing over the Brussel sprouts and broccoli for dessert and cereals. In the July 9, 2007, issue of Chest, The Harvard School of Public Health revealed that teenagers who get enough of the nutrients commonly found in fruits and fish are more prone to healthy lungs and to have less of a risk for asthma, coughing, and wheezing. This is because they are eating foods high in vitamin E, vitamin C, essential fatty acids, and other nutrients that are necessary for proper development of the respiratory system.
Establishing Healthy Habits
Making sure that a wholesome diet is stressed especially important in the childhood years as behaviors and habits are established. The simple fact is that children who eat a wholesome diet based on vegetables and fruits tend to develop into adults who eat vegetables and fruits.
There is an interesting study that shows the majority of babies who would not eat peas and demonstrated behaviors of not liking the peas, such as spitting them out, started to enjoy peas after only ten days if they were given them as the first bite of solid food each day for ten consecutive days. Even if they pushed away the food for the first couple days and were allowed to eat other foods after the first bite, 85% of them soon became accustomed to the peas into the diet, babies were desensitized to the taste, and their taste buds started to like the foods. Children have extremely sensitive taste buds and are extremely impressionable to the foods that they are exposed to at an early age. On the other hand, children who eat sugar and junk food tend to carry those habits into adulthood. Unfortunately, after the body and taste buds become accustomed to sugar, it is hard to go back to other foods because the body starts to crave sugar.
Because of all the negative effects that sugar wreaks on the body, it is contributing to the rising obesity epidemic that is prevalent in our society. Sugar also has many other side effects such as depressing the immune system, increasing the likelihood of obesity, causing inflammation, mood changes, and contributing to the rise in other diseases. Over the past decade the increase in certain disease, like diabetes, has grown along with childhood obesity. More alarmingly, Type II Diabetes has increased drastically in children. Where it used to be a predominantly late onset disease in adults, it is now plaguing children and adolescents. It has been shown that hospital charges for diabetic care provided for children and young adults have more than doubled in the past few years. It has gone from $1.05 billion in 1993 to $2.42 billion in 2004.
The sugar that the body utilizes more efficiently is not the refined sugar but natural sugars such as fructose found in fruits. Natural sugars provide support to the body without causing the side effects and addiction that white sugar does. Many parents feel that it is not possible to reduce or eliminate refined sugar from his or her child’s diet. If the child’s diet is already high in refined sugar, it can take some time and energy to reduce it because the child is probably already craving the sugar and addicted to it. However, it is easier for children to reset and establish new habits than it is for adults. It is evident that what you feed your child directly affects his or her health and future.
Written by Dr. Meaghan Kirschling, DC, APRN, RN, MS