“Have you seen this video?” I ask my other half. He leans over my shoulder as I start the video over and crank up the volume. It’s the same video I’ve embedded below. It’s all about the evils of soda and the deceptive way it’s marketed to us.
My other half watches for a moment and a little smile creeps over his face. “Well, it’s pretty much true,” he says a moment later.
We finish watching the video and I beam up at him unbridled zeal. “This is so true. It’s basically sweet caustic chemicals with good marketing.”
He rolls his eyes and shrugs. “Most people know pop is bad for them,” he says. “They just don’t care. And the companies making it know that. So add some nostalgia and people drink it up.”
While I think most people probably have heard at one time or another that drinking soda isn’t good for them, I don’t think most of us really think about why. Sugar is the real evil, not soda. And while soda includes a ridiculous amount of sugar per serving, sugar itself is everywhere and in almost everything we eat.
If you’ve watched the video and you’re outraged by how soda is marketed, I don’t blame you. But to be fair, soda companies cannot hide the sugar in their bottle labels if you bother to look. So while the advertising doesn’t mention how damaging a daily diet of soda will be to your body, you at least know it’s sugary because it tastes sweet. And sugar is the only significant number on the nutrition label - another tip off that you’re basically guzzling sugar.
That’s more than can be said for many other foods we eat. Sugar - and a lot of sugar - has worked its way into most preprepared food items you buy. Just take a look at the labels for things like tomato sauce, sandwich bread, crackers, mayonnaise, soups, pie crusts, yogurt, and even bread crumbs. Manufacturers add sugar because people prefer the taste of food when they add more sugar - and the more people enjoy, the more they eat and the more they buy. If you want to read more about food and taste manufacturing, check out this article from the New York Times.
But there’s still more sugar in our diet and it’s super sneaky. It’s the sugar - and carbs that easily turn into sugar - hidden in alcohol. Wine, beer, mixed drinks, and hard liquor are all high in sugar and carbs. And while alcohol producers have to disclose the carbs, they do not have to disclose the sugar. Light beer can still be hopped up on sugar and low-sugar hard alcohol is filled with carbs that the body easily converts into sugar.
If only sugar stopped there. But we’re not done yet. Refined ingredients - like wheat flour, rice flour, corn meal, potato or corn chips, pasta, etc. - are not technically sugar, but our bodies can easily convert refined food into sugar. And unless you’re a super-active athlete, that’s likely what your body is doing with refined foods. Which means, most of us are eating a steady diet of sugar even if we never open a bottle of soda or eat a slice of cake.
And we’re STILL not done with all the sugar in our diet. There’s the naturally occurring sugar. Did you know milk, fresh fruit, and most fresh vegetables all contain naturally occurring sugar? Bottled fruit juice is about as high in sugar as soda and bottled vegetable juice mixes aren’t much better. If you were outraged after watching the above video, just think how outraged you would be if someone examined the deceptive marketing of bottled juice as “healthy”. Sure, fruit and vegetable juices contain some vitamins and fiber, but it’s mostly sugar.
I don’t know about you, but I feel kind of light headed just thinking about all that sugar. It’s like there’s sugar everywhere, in everything, all the time. And there is. Because sugar is literally everywhere. I’m not a medical professional, but the evidence is piling up regarding the severe health dangers of consuming too much sugar. And with so many sources of sugar in our daily diet, it’s scary to think how much sugar each of us is unwittingly consuming.
It’s also true that not all sugar is the same. Again, not a heath expert, but studies show that our bodies handle different types of sugar differently. So granulated sugar is treated one way, high fructose corn syrup another way, naturally occurring sugars another, processed flours another, etc. But it’s still an AWFUL lot of sugar.
That makes me want to take a really hard look at what I’m eating. I don’t want all that sugar destroying my kidneys, dissolving my arteries, packing on extra weight, and ultimately gifting me diabetes and heart disease. I already know I eat too much sugar, especially in the form of refined flours. If I really wanted to do something loving for my body, I’d eliminate more sugar from my diet.
This isn't about losing weight or fitting into a pair of jeans or looking trimmer. If I want my body to perform 50 more years of active service, I have to treat it right and plan now for the future. 50 years on a steady sugar diet won’t work. And ignoring the ever-increasing flood of sugar into my food won’t work either.
If it were just a matter of not eating spoonfuls of granulated sugar right out of the Diamond bag, I’d be good. I haven’t done that since I was 15. But getting a handle on sneaky sugar is really tough.
If you’re like me, you could happily live on a steady diet of bread and cheese. Or if you're like my other half, you could live on soda and ice cream. And if you’re my mother-in-law, you would be quite content with bread and fruit. And if you’re one of my friends, you simply couldn’t live without biscuits and beer. But all that stuff is either sugar heavy or it’s treated like sugar by the body.
So here are a few things I’m trying in order to cut the sugar out of my diet. Cause I want my body to keep going for another 50:
- Spot the sugar in your food
So this is really just checking labels on jars, cans, bags, boxes and whatever else you’re buying. Look for sneaky sugar terms like “evaporated cane syrup”, “cane syrup”, “corn syrup”, “high fructose corn syrup”, and “fructose”. Check the grams of sugar per serving. And watch out for artificial sweeteners like “sucralose”, “aspartame” and “saccharin”. Personally, I’d rather eat sugar than the artificial stuff.
- Spot the sugar in what you drink
Fruit juice is about as bad for you as soft drinks like Coke and Pepsi. Some “vitamin” waters are also adding sweeteners. And don’t forget about all the sugar in a simple glass of milk. Again, read the labels and check the grams of sugar per serving. Now days, I mostly drink water.
- Create a shopping list
If I plan a menu and build a shopping list off that menu, I rarely pick up splurge items like Oreos or bakery items. That helps me avoid sneaking extra sugars into the house. Because if it’s not in the house, I can’t eat it. Try to build menus and shopping lists off seasonal ingredients. Seasonal stuff is cheaper and fresh food is almost always the best food for your body.
- Eat fresh
So fresh fruits and vegetables have naturally occurring sugars, but they are also loaded with fiber and vitamins. It’s easier on your body to eat fresh than eating a bunch of processed foods. So eat plenty of raw foods. Eat plenty of whole foods. Skip the cooking and processing whenever you can. It’s harder than it sounds - but it’s also easy because raw, whole foods don’t require a lot of prep.
- Make your own food
The other great reason everyone should make their own food - control. Control over ingredients, control over quality, control over SUGAR. Who says mayonnaise needs sugar? Who says granola has to taste like candy? Who says? You choose.
These are the strategies I’m using. Because I’ve got to try something before I drown in all this sugar. If you’re doing something different that works, please share.