Diabetes is running rampant in the United States. According to the CDC, “11.3% of American adults age 20 and older have diabetes,” while “35% of American adults age 20 and older have prediabetes.” That means almost half of the adult American population have diabetes or prediabetes!
Of course, once people have diabetes, they are more susceptible to other health issues such as heart disease and stroke as well as blindness.
Why is diabetes so rampant? Some point to our increasingly sedenatry lifestyle, others point out our dependence on fast food, and others mention our obesity.
But what isn’t mentioned as much is our dependence on sugar. Not just the sugary desserts and snacks we eat, but the sugar that is in so many of our processed foods.
Could You Give Up Sugar for a Year?
Recently, the Schaubs (a family of four including father, mother and two daughters ages 11 and 6) have been getting quite a bit of media exposure because they just finished living a year without sugar.
You may think their year entailed saying no to soft drinks and Oreos, but it goes much further than that. They “cut out anything with an added sweetener, be it table sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, agave or fruit juice.” They also “excluded anything made with fake sugar or sugar alcohols. Unless the sweetness was attached to its original source (e.g., a piece of fruit),” they “didn’t eat it” (Yahoo! Shine).
Giving up desserts and sugary snacks is hard enough in our culture that is filled with them. But when you try to give up all the added sugar, suddenly your food choices seem to become very limited. The Schaub family recounts what they couldn’t eat, stating, “Once we started looking we found sugar in the most amazing places: tortillas, sausages, chicken broth, salad dressing, cold cuts, crackers, mayonnaise, bacon, bread, and even baby food. Why add all of this sugar? To make these items more palatable, add shelf life, and make packaged food production even cheaper” (Yahoo! Shine).
Of course, with so many prepared items and convenience foods full of sugar, the Schaubs had to spend a lot more time in the kitchen preparing and cooking their own food.
Besides giving up sugar, which many of us might have a difficult time doing because it is so incredibly addicting, many more of us likely say we don’t have time to cook everything from scratch.
The Physical Benefits
Eve Schaub, who has just written a book about her family’s experience, Year of No Sugar: A Memoir, notes that her family just felt much healthier in general after not consuming sugar for a year.
The simple fact is that sugar is embedded in so many items, even if we don’t think we have a sweet tooth, we’re likely eating many grams of sugar a day, so we don’t know what it feels like to be truly sugar free. Allison Aubrey of NPR states that someone eating a 6 oz. cup of organic yogurt (seemingly making a healthy breakfast choice), will consume their daily quota of sugar (as set forth by the American Heart Association) in just that one yogurt.
Sugar is hidden in so many items and our sweet tooth now so large that the “average American consumes 77 pounds of sugar a year” up from 4 pounds a year in 1700 and 18 pounds a year in 1800 (National Geographic).
We’re drowning (or perhaps happily swimming) in the sweet stuff, and it’s killing us. Richard Johnson, a nephrologist at the University of Colorado, Denver, states, “It seems like every time I study an illness and trace a path to the first cause, I find my way back to sugar” (National Geographic).
Retraining your taste buds, as the Schaubs did, is difficult. Yet the reward, the Schaubs found, is that they lost their taste for super sweet foods. They felt healthier. They likely were healthier.
It’s unfortunate that companies put so much sugar in our food, but now that we know sugar is hidden in unlikely places such as salad dressing and pasta sauce, we can avoid it, if we want to. And maybe we’ll also be avoiding a host of diseases that Johnson links to sugar.