Sugar, sugar

May 4, 2012 

One of the many exciting things about getting older is that you never know which part of your body is going to stop working as well as it used to. For instance, when I was younger I could eat whatever I wanted and I seldom gained an ounce or had an upset stomach. I could exist on a steady diet of pizza, cheeseburgers and ice cream. My body would take the abuse with nary a complaint.

Eventually, (around the time I turned 40) my body decided it had had enough, though. I haven’t had a problem with weight gain, but that’s only because my digestive system rebels when I indulge in eating too much fat, sugar or dairy (basically anything that’s fun to eat). It’s all well and good to be thin, but when you are that way because eating a whole candy bar at one time makes you want to throw up it’s a Pyrrhic victory at best.

One of things I’ve been doing lately is paying closer attention to the things I eat, and what’s in them. Let me warn you right now that you should never do this. If you care at all about your health, examining what you are likely putting into your body (especially if you have a love of junk food like I do) is a sure way to make you very sad.

The thing I’ve specifically been focusing on lately is my sugar intake. I have always had a sweet tooth and have always been pretty generous to myself about indulging it. Based on my research, I’ve been way too generous.

The nutritional websites I browsed recommended that an adult get no more than 40 grams (10 teaspoons) of added sugar in their diet each day. Some recommended much less than that, so that would be the absolute upper limit. Then I took a look at some of the food I like to eat, and how much sugar they contain. I was in for an unpleasant surprise.

I normally start my day with a bowl of cereal or a couple of Pop Tarts. In doing so I am treating myself to pretty much all of the sugar I am supposed to have for a whole day (typically between 25 and 35 grams). Not a good start.

If I drink a 12-ounce can of Coke during the day, I’ve consumed another 39 grams of sugar. One of my “healthy” Nutri-Grain bars adds another 13 grams. And even a low-fat “light” 6-ounce yogurt has 14 grams of sugar in it.

Of course I haven’t even mentioned real, honest-to-goodness desserts yet. That candy bar I mentioned earlier has 30 grams of sugar in it. A half cup of vanilla ice cream has 22 grams and a slice of apple pie has another 18, so you can do the math if you like your pie a la mode.

I could easily see that my average daily sugar intake could add up to more than 100 grams a day. And I’m not alone. The average American consumes between 125 and 200 grams of sugar each day. Just in the last 20 years our average yearly sugar consumption has increased from 26 pounds a year to an astonishing 135 pounds a year.

The harmful effects on the body from that much sugar intake are too numerous to list in their entirety but include elevating your risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even psychological disorders. It is, in fact, an extremely harmful substance when consumed in mass quantities (as many of us do), but we don’t tend to look at it that way.

From the time we are children we learn that sugar is a wonderful, magical substance associated with parties and rewards for good behavior. It’s only much later that we learn that it is also (like everything else) very bad for us if we overindulge in it. What a drag it is growing old.

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Centerville. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com or visit his blog at nscsense.blogspot.com.

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