There is a war going on, and it’s not one fought with weapons. The war on sugar is finally gaining momentum as research confirms that it not only has the same addictive effects as tobacco and other drugs, but it also leads to weight gain and disease.
Tragically, the average American nowadays consumes approximately 180 lbs of sugar per year. This number has increased from around 100 lbs in the 1950s. The use of corn syrup has octupled since its introduction, and high fructose corn syrup is questionably more harmful to the human body than regular cane sugar.
As a matter of fact, a study at Princeton University has found that rats who were fed a diet including high fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than their counterparts who were fed the same amount of calories with regular sugar (sucrose). Make no mistake, though, both groups of rats ended up gaining weight on these diets.
Sadly, almost 70 percent of American adults are considered overweight or obese, with almost a third in the obese category, and about one in 20 adults in the extremely obese category. The alternative health movement has been educating the public about the dangers of sugar for almost two decades. Now even mainstream science is catching up and becoming more cognizant of sugar’s detrimental effects on the body.
The Food and Drug Administration has finally announced that Americans should eat or drink no more than 50 grams of sugar per day. This equates to approximately one and a half cans of soda. It stands to reason that soda sweetened with high fructose corn syrup may do more damage than soda sweetened with regular sugar.
Needless to say, the soda industry is up in arms. The American Beverage Association has invested millions of dollars in fighting taxes and laws regulating sugar. Coca-Cola has dumped more millions into questionable research touting exercise over diet for successful weight loss. As a comparison, research suggests that weight loss, and then maintenance, should be a combination of 80 percent diet and 20 percent exercise. And recent research by the University of Copenhagen has found that it may actually be more beneficial to exercise less rather than to exercise more when you are trying to lose weight.
But what about the fat? The low-fat industry boomed in the 1980s and 90s when guidelines suggested we should limit our fat intake because it was said to cause obesity. Grocery store shelves were, and still are, lined with low-fat food items like cereal, granola bars, and low-fat dairy products. Fats, of course, had to be replaced with something, and sugar was a welcome alternative for the food industry. Hence, the number of overweight and obese people has skyrocketed in the last two decades.
In the meantime, evidence piles up that sugar, and in particular sugary soda beverages, are linked to obesity, and subsequently to diabetes and other diet-related diseases that plague Americans in the twenty-first century. In 2013, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to pass a ban on oversized sugary drinks. The City of Berkeley, California has passed a tax on sugary beverages, and San Francisco has added a warning label to sugary beverages. To date, 33 states have passed taxes on sugary drinks.
The results of this new awareness reflect in the decrease of soda sales in the United States. Since 1998, sales have dropped by 25 percent, and the consumption of orange juice has gone down by 45 percent.
It’s a tough life for Coca-Cola and Pepsi, who have now resorted to selling smaller cans, with alternative sweeteners, and zero- or low-calorie beverages in a desperate attempt to convince consumers that they are, in fact, keeping up with the times and able to adjust to a new demand. Almost half of Pepsi’s sales are now in low- or no-calorie beverages.
However, we expect that an increasingly educated population will continue to make better decisions, steer clear of sugar, and move on to more healthy alternatives.
Ute Mitchell is a Freelance Writer and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner located in Portland, OR, where she homeschools her kids, cooks healthy meals for her family, and hikes the forests and mountains around the Pacific Northwest. She is an avid CrossFit athlete, and loves to encourage others to live a healthy and active lifestyle.