When Kevin was small I took him next door to a friend’s birthday party. As the adults sat around sipping cold drinks and watching, the kids snacked on cupcakes and raced through the back yard, happily screaming. 

“Oh, I’m so glad the kids will be with the nanny tonight,” one mom lamented as she sipped her wine, and the other nodded in agreement. “They are on such a sugar high,” she sighed.

“Seriously?” I couldn’t help but pipe up.  “My kid is like that most of the time. Sugar doesn’t do a thing to him.”  I was met with looks of...what was that? Sympathy? Horror?

Recently, scientists published a commentary in the Feb. 1 issue of Nature, stating that sugar should be regulated like alcohol.  They believe that sugar is toxic and causing many of the diseases we are now seeing, besides contributing to the obesity epidemic. According to the United Nations World Health Organization, non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes, strokes, heart and lung disease are the leading causes of death and on the rise and factors contributing to these diseases are smoking, alcohol, poor diet, and inadequate exercise. 

In a world where packaged food is the norm, sugar is hard to get away from. Hidden in everything from prepared spaghetti sauces to instant oatmeals, once one begins reading labels, it’s all too clear that everything has some amount of added sugar to it.  Just take a walk down the breakfast cereal aisle or look at the snack foods marketed to children, and you will see everything from chocolate cheerios to granola bars with as much sugar as a chocolate bar.

The scientists believe that since sugar disrupts metabolism and acts on the same areas of the brain as tobacco and alcohol, the government should step in and control it.

“That includes taxes, age restrictions and other policies to control the distribution of sugar.” (Healthpop, CBS news)

All of this information is interesting, but I think that pointing a finger at one food item is far too simplistic. In the past 20 years, portion sizes have increased dramatically, and some food chains such as Starbucks have phased out the smaller sizes in favor of much larger ones, such as the Venti. I wonder if this has been considered because if people are simply eating far more, and more packaged foods, they are obviously consuming more sugar.  When we were on vacation last summer there were signs all over a gas station advertising a 52 ounce drink.  If you break that down, it’s six and a half cups, or 1.5 liters. I can’t even tell you how many times we’ve dined out and ordered half portions or shared meals, only to have the server express how shocked they were at how little we ate. Our society, it seems, has lost the ability to see what moderation is anymore. One only has to look at shows such as “Man vs Food” to see how shock value food seems to have permeated our culture.  The bigger, and badder we can make it seems to be what sells. Combine that with the amount of “kid food” out there loaded with sugar and salt, and we have a recipe for disaster.  Only recently I was sent a box of “kid’s oatmeal” that contained chocolate chips and boasts 9 g of sugar per 36 g serving of 140 calories. Do the math: 9 grams of sugar is 35 calories, which means that 25% of those 140 calories are from sugar. Why not buy plain oatmeal and make it yourself?

Sadly, convenience and lack of knowledge is taking a toll on our health.

I’m not against sugar; in fact, I admit to a sweet tooth.  One only has to take a look at my blog and see the amount of cookie recipes to see that I love a sweet treat, like we all do.  This study is making me take a second look at how much sugar we consume, and I find that when I make treats at home not only can I control the sugar, but we are satisfied with less.   Michael Pollan talks about eating as much junk food as you want but make it yourself, and he’s right!  When we make home made ice cream, everyone in our family is far more satisfied with one small scoop—and because it’s work intensive to make, when I do it’s a rare treat.

What can you do to eat healthier? Don’t become the sugar police, but try reading labels and you may be surprised at what you discover.  Make small changes, like trying out recipes for home made pasta sauce, or skip the instant oatmeal for the kids. Make sugar a treat, not a staple. Buy more fruits and vegetables. Most of all, have what you crave, but learn to enjoy it in smaller portions.  A tall mocha with whipped cream may satisfy you far more than the Venti, non-fat, no-whip version that will leave you craving more later.   

Most of all, slow down and enjoy your food, one bite at a time.