Ever stop to wonder why diabetes rates in the U.S. have skyrocketed to over 10% of the population in recent years? This is a startling change from 1970, when less than 2% of the U.S. population had diabetes. Or why the rates of overweight and obesity are higher than they have ever been? There are many factors that play into this (sedentary lifestyles and industrialization of the food supply, to name a couple) but one major, often overlooked and misunderstood factor is sugar.
If you've ever stopped to look at a food label in the store, most likely you've found some sort of sugar on it. Sugar is found in nearly every packaged food product - pasta sauce (yes, even tomato!), salad dressing, ketchup, instant oatmeal, bread, etc. According to the documentary "Fed Up," there are 600,000 food products in America and over 80% of them have sugar.
Most of you probably remember the low-fat craze of the 1990s that is still lurking around to this day. What happens when you take fat out of a product? It tastes like, well... crap. I could go on forever about how beneficial healthy fats are but I'll save that for another blog post. So, we had fat-less food that food producers needed to taste better so people would actually buy it. By now, I'm sure you can probably guess what they added to it: SUGAR!
So, you're probably thinking to yourself at this point, "Wait. So a low-fat diet was supposed to help us lose weight. But actually, the low-fat craze made us all fatter and sicker than ever?!" Why yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.
When you remove fat from a product, or eat a high-sugar food item that is low in fat, protein, or fiber, your body digests it much quicker. This leads to a spike in blood sugar, followed by that all-too-familiar crash. Constant blood sugar swings can lead to a whole slew of issues: cravings, over-eating, insulin resistance, and may eventually lead to diabetes. I don't know about you, but whenever I eat a piece of cake, all I'm thinking about is eating another one.
What does all of this mean? For one, it means we need to educate ourselves on how to read food labels. Just because a product is low-fat, low-calorie, or deemed healthy by some other standard, does not mean it actually is. In fact, quit eating any product that makes some sort of health claim. The best things we can eat to fuel our bodies are also found in our grocery store, but are often overlooked - lean meat, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruit, eggs, whole grains, full-fat dairy, etc.
Bottom line: check food labels before you buy! Pay attention to added sugar and hidden names for sugar. Pair foods with higher sugar contents (such as fruit) with fat, fiber, and protein (nuts are always a great choice). Try to buy food without labels so you don't even have to worry about added sugar.
People are often surprised when I tell them sugar is an addictive substance. It acts on the same dopamine receptors that addictive drugs, such as alcohol, nicotine, and heroin, do. It is important to recognize that sugar is an addictive substance that for some, may require support to quit (see videos below for more info).
Also, check out my 21-Day Nutrition Challenge that gives you support to kick your sugar addiction, including recipes, a full 3-week meal plan, shopping lists, and more!
Some great resources for learning more:
- Check out the documentary "Fed Up" - you can stream it on Netflix
- This is a great TED talk about how sugar affects the brain:
- Another great video that goes more in depth about sugar addiction: "The Skinny on Obesity: Sugar - A Sweet Addiction" (This is a video series that's amazing if you want to learn more about obesity in general. I picked this episode because it was specifically talking about sugar but I encourage you to check out the rest!)
- "Food Labels: How to Spot Hidden Sugars"