sweet! no sugar!

When you start reading what it says on ingredient labels of food, you’ll be surprised where you’ll find cane sugar listed as an ingredient. It seems to be in everything on a supermarket shelf, from the more obvious cereals, jams, cookies, yogurts and dried fruit (which are already so sweet!) to the less obvious pasta sauces, salad dressings, soy sauce and much more. When I started checking ingredients of products I was often shocked to find sugar as an ingredient – now I’m not so shocked and I unfortunately expect it! – but because I would never have thought it to be necessary to be added to certain products, and the truth is that it isn’t necessary. I would have never suspected sugar to be added to any kind of dried fruit, as it is naturally very sweet and therefore requires no additional sweetening. What confuses me is that the added ingredient must cost the company more money since they are adding something. This is where we must adopt a lower threshold for what we consider “sweet”.

Many of us who don’t consciously avoid sugars and additional sweetening, also have a higher tolerance to how sweet foods are. Once you change that habit – and it realty is just a habit – you will wonder how you ever ate those sweet things that are not good for you. After I started to avoid sugar and over-sweetening, I realized that after some time, certain things became too sweet for me. I used to add a teaspoon of maple syrup or agave to my coffee or hot cocoa, which I don’t need anymore, because I got used to eating and drinking less sweet. Many foods are sweetened for us, so we like the taste of them more and are more likely to keep buying them.

If you’re trying to avoid cane sugar and dairy, when you go to a coffee shop and order a drink with alternative milk, it very often contains sugar. There are countless brands of plant milks that offer products with simple ingredients (usually just 2-3 ingredients, such as soy milk containing only water and soy beans). Yet I’ve noticed a lot of cafés only have sweetened versions. I have read before that this is because the beverage tastes better when it is sweetened, which make consumers like it more and more likely to come back for more. The food industry uses large amounts of sugar to replace the taste in foods. Sugar is like a drug, such as heroin or cocaine, because it stimulates the same pleasure centers of the brain as these drugs do. Sugar in foods makes us addicted to the product, which makes us want it more and encourages us to purchase it. Depending on how we were raised and what we eat, as consumers we have to actively avoid this in order to change the system.

In the late 1700’s an average Englishman consumed 4 lbs of sugar per year. 100 years later by 1800 it was 18 lbs annually. By 1870, an average person was eating 47 lbs per year. Today, the average American consumes 77 lbs annually, or 22 teaspoons daily, of added sugar. So, it used to be 4 lbs per year and now it’s about 6 lbs per month! How did we get here?

Sugar has always been a part of our diets, but never has it been consumed in such volumes as it is now. In fact, back in the 15th century sugar was so rare, it was classified as a spice and was only available to the rich. As the demand for sugar increased, more and more of it was planted, which made it more widely available and more affordable. Although sugar was at first a rarity, today we see it added to every food in a supermarket shelf. I've been looking for organic dried cranberries, that are just one ingredient – cranberries – but I still haven't found any brand that sells them. I have found a brand that sells organic cranberries sweetened with apple juice.

Back in 1972 a book called "Pure, White, and Deadly" was published by John Yudkin, a British professor of nutrition. More than 40 years ago, some nutrition scientists were already aware of the devastating effects sugar had on our health. Although the book did well, other prominent nutritionists and the food industry did everything in their power to destroy his reputation. In the 1960's when Yudkin was researching the effects of sugar and voicing its harmful health effects, a new health trend was emerging: "A healthy diet is a low-fat diet." When you go to a supermarket today, you can find low-fat or fat-free versions for everything; low-fat yogurt, low-fat milk, reduced fat cookies, low-fat dressings, fat-free baked goods etc, but all these so called healthier versions of food still have sugar in them. The new low-fat diet did not make us healthier, but instead obesity rates increased.

Currently about 33% of adults worldwide have high blood pressure, as opposed to only 5% in 1900. Today 347 million people have diabetes, compared to 153 million in 1980. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, "… more than 60% are considered to be overweight or obese in the United States… in 1950 it was only 12% of the population." More than 1 in 20 adults are considered to have extreme obesity and more than 1 in 6 children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be obese."  Today many young people have diabetes and heart diseases, which were unheard of in the early 1900's.  

Just like everyone else I love desserts and sweet things! But since I eliminated all cane sugars and most other sugars from my diet, my definition of sweet has been lessened. If we decondition our lack of sensitivity to sugar and overly-sweet foods, we can still enjoy the pleasure of sweet taste, we just need much less of it to be satisfied. Our bodies don’t even need much added sugar because they are designed to produce it themselves.

There are so many ways you can use fresh fruits in dessert as a natural whole food sweetener. Dried fruits are also a good sweetener, when used sparingly. Most pre-made foods are unnecessarily sweetened. Many people stress about having to cook themselves, but it’s really not stressful or time-consuming! There are so many easy and healthy recipes you can cook at home. I’m at university finishing my degree, while taking other college courses at the same time and because I believe health is so important, I still manage to fit it all in without having to stress about being healthy. I manage both my university course grades very well, while being able to eat healthy home cooked food for every meal and exercising daily. I know this sounds like a lot, I know it’s possible. You don’t have to overwhelm yourself by making all the changes in one day, but try one step at a time, until it becomes just ‘normal’ J You’ll be glad you did it!


Sources (to be completed)




Food InfoSakura OyamaComment