It’s National Sugar Awareness Week, and according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the average American consumes 152 pounds of sugar per year. That’s right, 152 POUNDS! For many people, this is equivalent to eating their entire body weight in sugar in just one calendar year. Whether this is from consuming sugary beverages, canned goods with hidden sweeteners, or simply too much dessert, this statistic is staggering. Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to obesity, which puts you at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other obesity-related illnesses. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that “more than 30 million Americans have diabetes, and 90-95% of them have type 2 diabetes." This all goes to show that an “addiction” to sugar is becoming an increasing problem among youth and adults today. As a college student, I know firsthand the danger of the sugar industry, especially when processed sweets are lurking around every corner of campus. For example, it is especially difficult to say “no” to student housing companies offering you free desserts in an attempt to get you to rent a unit!
So how do we stop this sugar epidemic? It starts by making small lifestyle changes in the home and becoming educated on what a low-sugar diet can look like. Go through your pantry and find the foods with unnecessary sweeteners in them, such as pasta sauce and sugary cereals. There are more than 50 different names for sugar and artificial sweeteners, so begin learning what these names look like and how to avoid them when buying packaged or canned goods at the grocery store. Rice syrup, dextrose, and maltose are all examples of nontraditional names for sugar that could be hiding in your food.There are many brands that offer products with little to no added sugar, and these are a great option when shopping for ingredients. An easy swap to make is trading out your normal pasta sauce for a brand like Newman’s Own, which doesn’t add any sweeteners to their sauce. Another easy trade is switching out your peanut butter for a brand that carries something natural, preferably only containing peanuts and salt. Smucker’s offers a great all-natural peanut butter that tastes amazing and comes in creamy or crunchy to suit your preference. You won’t even miss the sugar! Incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet, and learn to cook with spices so that your food doesn’t have to lack flavor just because it’s low in sugar. Find new and exciting recipes that keep you from getting bored of the same meals day after day. One of my favorite things to do is cook with friends. We love finding healthy, easy recipes online (try Pinterest!) that are fun to prepare together and taste amazing. This not only broadens our skills in the kitchen, but provides a way to spend time together while preparing something nutritious. Most recently I tried something new and made a delicious cashew chicken stir fry. I don’t always love stepping out of my comfort zone, but trying new recipes has helped expand my palate to enjoy foods that aren't coated in sugar. One of the most obvious ways to cut back on your sugar consumption is to simply not buy it when you go shopping. My dad admits to being a huge “sugarholic”, but if we don’t buy junk food and leave it in the pantry, he doesn’t eat it! Finally, remember to be kind to yourself. A modest amount of sugar in moderation is much more beneficial to your long-term health than binging on large quantities of sugar on a “cheat day” in an attempt to compensate for your overly-restrictive diet. Find what works best for your lifestyle, and don’t judge yourself too harshly if that dressing you put on your salad was a little too sweet.
Eating less sugar is sure to boost your mood, energy level, and outlook for the day. Start with small changes in your lifestyle at home and work (use your kitchen, pack lunches, etc.), and you will begin to develop a fresh perspective on nutrition. With a lot of little changes, America can become a country where a constant “sugar high” is no longer the norm.
-Ashley Voeller is a college student, future dietitian, dancer and blogger