With the national average of refined sugar intake up 23% in the last 25 years, doctors are concerned that Americans are consuming far too many sweets.
Dr. David Ludwig, a childhood obesity physician at Boston Children's Hospital, said he is stunned by America's consumption of empty calories and that the average convenience store is a nutritional disaster area.
"All sugar-containing foods aren't bad," he explained. "For example, an apple has its main calories come from sugar. But it's surrounded by fiber, so it digests slowly and keeps blood sugar under control."
Counting refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, the average American consumes 142 pounds a year, or roughly 2 ½ pound a week and is a major factor in the rising rates of obesity.
"The problem is when we take sugars and concentrate and refine them, and serve them in massive amounts throughout the food supply," Ludwig said. "That's causing hormonal changes that in many people drive hunger, cause overeating, and increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease."
He explains that the carbohydrates in highly processed foods, like white bread and white rice, turn into glucose when eaten, causing blood pressure to rise and drop.
"A bagel and a bowl of sugar may taste different, but to the body they're virtually the same thing," he explained. "A bagel would do the same thing to blood sugar hormones and hunger several hours after eating it."
Spokesperson Melanie Miller of the American Sugar Association points out that there is no scientific agreement on how much sugar is too much. She also says that sugar is not an evil thing.
"Sometimes we need sugar to make it rise, or make it crisp, or to give it texture," she reasoned.
In her book, Sugar Shock!, author Connie Bennett claims that her over consumption of sugar caused excessive fatigue, mood swings, severe PMS, and intense migraine headaches.
When her doctor diagnosed her with low blood sugar and told her to lay off sweets, she described, "I remember all of a sudden, after three days, I was like, 'Wow! I feel so good!’ It was as if the fog lifted, and then, after a few weeks, all my ailments disappeared."
Around the nation, people are taking steps to help fix the problem. Last week, Alameda County, California, declared a “soda-free summer initiative.”
"We hope to enlist 60,000 Alameda County children to forswear sugar for the summer," Bennett said. She believes that people will really see if a difference by cutting back on sugar.
"I tell people, 'Don't believe me, just don't believe me,'" she said. "'Then test it out for yourself. Go a week without sugar and refined carbs, or maybe even two weeks and then just watch yourself like a lab rat.'"
This may be a difficult task, considering that sugar is hidden in everything from salad dressing to spaghetti sauce. While sugar content is always listed in grams on nutrition labels, not many people realize that there are 4 grams in a teaspoon, nor do they do how many grams is too many for them personally.
The Agriculture Department recommends no more than 12 teaspoons a day; that is roughly one 12-ounce soda and a slice of bread.
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