It’s a confusing celebration: Colorado remains the leanest state in the country. But it’s a nuanced distinction when 22 percent of all adults still meet the parameters for being obese. And when we include those people categorized as “overweight,” we are suddenly faced with the fact that 58 percent of Colorado adults are not as healthy as they could be. Our children are faring worse, getting heavier at the second-fastest rate in the nation. Between 2003 and 2007, Colorado’s childhood obesity national ranking dropped from the third leanest to the 23rd.
Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric neuroendocrinologist and author of “Fat Chance,” categorizes sugar as poison. Though food was just as abundant before obesity’s ascendance, he believes the primary challenge is our collective increase in sugar consumption. Sugar drives fat storage and makes the brain think that it’s hungry, setting up a vicious cycle. Brain imaging studies show that sugar “lights up” the pleasure centers in our brains and many scientists believe that it’s as addicting as cocaine.
The American Heart Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture offer some startling statistics how much sugar we eat:
• The average American consumes at least 76.7 pounds of sugar per year, and the average teenage boy at least 109 pounds.
• Americans consume 22 teaspoons of added sugars a day, teens 34 teaspoons.
Because sugar rears its ugly head in unexpected food items and in various forms on food labels, it is often difficult to detect. By the end of the day, you’ve likely consumed more than you expected. Healthy eating and regular exercise are obvious steps toward good health. But when you’re counting calories, it’s essential to watch out for food items stuffed with added sugar, like ketchup: A tablespoon of ketchup contains a teaspoon of sugar.
It can be confusing to try to find out how much added sugar a food contains because food manufacturers have taken full advantage of FDA labeling loopholes. The sugar listing on a Nutrition Facts label lumps all sugars together, including naturally occurring milk sugar (lactose) and fruit sugars (fructose). This explains why, according to the label, one cup of milk has 11 grams of sugar even though it doesn’t contain any sugar “added” to it.
Deciphering sugar totals requires two calculations:
• 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar
• 1 gram of sugar = 4 calories
Using these numbers can help you understand the information found on the Nutrition Facts label: a food or beverage that contains 40 grams of sugar per serving is the same as eating 10 teaspoons of sugar and 160 calories.
But becoming a “Sugar Detective” requires learning the sweetener’s many aliases: Agave Nectar, Beet Sugar, Maltodextrin, Honey, Barley Malt Syrup, and Fruit Juice Concentrate are just a few of its names.
Simply stated, reducing sugar in our diets will improve our health, but it can take time to do it: time to read labels carefully, time to prepare snacks and meals made from fresh, whole foods and time to enjoy it with your family or friends.
It’s worth shining a light on hidden sugar in foods for better health.