© 2009 Nancy Appleton PhD and G.N. Jacobs
Authors of Suicide by Sugar
Perhaps, you’ve already read one of the many variations of recent statements on sugar from The American Heart Association? We at Nancy Appleton Books are very happy, so much so that we’ll take a moment to do the Snoopy Dance. On second thought, the dance looks stupid when real people do it.
So, what does the American Heart Association’s instructions that everyone should cut their added sugar intake by 70-percent mean beyond giving Doctor Appleton a moment where she gets to say I told you so sometime back in 1986? Well, that depends on your circumstances, because we think the Heart Association has picked a sugar threshold that is still well above what is best for optimal health, but also represents a vast improvement over how things are done now.
Data collected between 2001 and 2004 and cited in the statement put the average American’s sugar consumption at 22 teaspoons or 355 extra calories of sugar per day. Citing recent studies that generally link sugar to obesity, diabetes and heart disease, the association has decided that men on 2,200-calorie diets should cut their sugar intake to 9 teaspoons or 150 calories per day. Woman in similar actuarial brackets assumed to eat 1,800 calories per day are instructed to cut down to 6 teaspoons or 100 calories per day.
Just so you know, while these “official” recommendations may not be enough for some people to lose weight and become healthier, they do represent threats to the major producers of sugar in our modern diet. A soda manufacturer, for instance, will worry because the average cola tips the scale at 8-10 teaspoons or 130-150 calories. The heart association published statistics that break down our sugar usage to regular soda (33%), sugars and candy (16.1%), cakes, cookies and pie (12.9%), fruit drinks (9.7%), dairy desserts and milk products (8.6%) and other grain-based treats (5.8%).
Even with other categories of foods that deliver sugar to an unsuspecting populace not discussed in this breakdown, a reduction to 9 and 6 teaspoons respectively means many sugar producers may change their business model. We’ll discuss what the heart association left out in a later paragraph.
In her first book Lick the Sugar Habit, Dr. Appleton states that the human body needs only about 2 teaspoons of blood sugar (glucose) per day. Normal consumption of whole fruits, vegetables and grains will provide this amount of glucose without resort to any added sugar at all![i] So you see, 6 or 9 teaspoons of sugar versus 2 teaspoons still means that the heart association people have quite a ways to go before they get our full support.
We also have reason to wonder if the statement writers have based their sugar consumption numbers on statistics that underreport the real story. Statistics on sugar vary between reports depending on who is doing the test and how close they are to the U.S. Government, which until very recently thought nothing was wrong with sugar if you brushed your teeth. In 1989, the Berkley Wellness letter, estimated that sugar consumption in 1985 to be 133 pounds per year or 500 to 600 calories per day per person.[ii] We are already well above the numbers cited by the heart association statement written nearly twenty years later. We have in the years since raised yearly sugar consumption to well over 150 pounds per person per year.
One thing that we can completely agree on with the American Heart Association is the high degree to which soda delivers the most sugar to the most people. Their information says that soda represents a third of all sugar injected into the average diet. Our information may not exactly agree, but still says that we get too much sugar from soft drinks, lemonade, punch and whatever Tang is defined as. We devoted a whole chapter of Suicide by Sugar to soft drinks and other similar sugary drinks.
In 2005, the average American was estimated to drink 35.5 gallons of just regular soda, which when the other categories of sugary drinks are added in comes out to the equivalent of 637 cans of soda per person per year.[iii] We cited a statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics made in 2004 that said that all members should advocate for the removal of all sugary drinks from schools. The primary reason was to prevent obesity in children and to make sure that sugar didn’t replace healthy nutrients in children’s diets.[iv]
The Heart Association has come out for sugar reductions and we applaud. But, we find it interesting that the bulk of the recommendations fall against the easy culprits in our sweet diets: soda, ice cream, cake, pie, but not some others that may in the long run be more useful. We understand about birthday parties and the social reasons we eat sugar, even though we assume many people will act like addicts and lose the ability to say “no more today.” But, shouldn’t sugar reductions fall against all sugar producers equally?
As of this writing, Mr. Jacobs holds a Heinz ketchup bottle in his hands with this ingredient list: tomato concentrate, distilled vinegar, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, CORN SYRUP, salt, spice, onion powder, natural flavoring. He also pulled out a can of his generic brand chili where SUGAR and MODFIED CORN STARCH are listed together about in the middle of the list. So far, there is no call on the part of the Heart Association to question the sugar that is in regular processed food that doesn’t need to be there from the point of view of taste.
Mr. Jacobs admits to making compromises with some sugar-laden foods for convenience. He refuses to boil beans and simmer down meat and spices to make his own chili, a recipe that he was never taught, because he already spends too much time in the kitchen some days. He is trying to wean himself off of ketchup as a base for marinara sauce in favor of steamed tomatoes. He reports mixed results. But, these foods aren’t supposed to taste sweet; yet, we see sugar in all of its many names on the labels.
We would suggest to the Heart Association to take a look at the sugar in these processed foods and see if advocating for cans of chili without sugar added would help reduce sugar consumption without being so draconian about the obvious sugar sources. Yes, in a perfect world whole fruit with a tiny bit of cream for the lactose tolerant would replace the fudge sundae, but the short term comfort of these foods is very powerful.
Instead of denying the occasional fall off the wagon doesn’t it make more sense to start with foods that the sugar taste is practically overwhelmed by all the other spices as to be tasteless? Sugar is not a preservative and canned meat is vacuum-sealed, so preservation isn’t the reason for this practice. We hope it isn’t because sugar is addictive, another of our common rants.
Sugar upsets body chemistry and helps cause heart disease, diabetes, obesity and many other maladies. Doctor Appleton has said this for more than 30 years and we feel good that other health groups are now catching on. It is a good day.
[i] Appleton, N. Lick the Sugar Habit. (New York: Avery Penguin Putnam, 1988) Pg 13.
[ii] University of California, Berkley Wellness Letter 6, No. 3 December 1989, pp 4-5
[iii] U.S. Department of Agriculture “Food Availabilty: Custom Queries.” www.ers.usda.gov/Data/FoodConsumption/FoodAvailQueriable.aspx
[iv] Taras, H.L., et al. “Policy Statement” Pediatrics. Jan 2004; 113; 1: 152-154.