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Avoid things with cholesterol, avoid fats, avoid carbs. Pay attention to the food labels. There have been many dietary messages in recent years as people gained more weight. Now, the government and leading experts are pointing to a sugar, real and artificial, as the reason for the obesity epidemic. The new government guidelines, documentaries like Fed Up, and others are seeing sugar and other sweeteners as the number 1 dietary enemy in the U.S. today.
The new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which is published every five years by U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA), looks at the latest data on nutrition science and eating patterns to offer guidance on issues with people’s current diets and recommend shifts in food choices The big emphasis in the latest edition deals with sugar as the issue leading to more Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other problems.
The Dietary Guidelines recommend that the average person limit their intake of sugar to 10 teaspoons a day. Unfortunately, most Americans eat more like 30 to 40 teaspoons a day, not to mention the artificial sweeteners they consume too.
How much is 10 teaspoons of sugar? Each teaspoon of granulated sugar equals 4 grams, so 40 grams. Someone who eats a breakfast cereal with 18 grams of sugar is consuming almost half a day’s limit and, realistically, most people consume far more than the recommended serving size. A single can of Coca Cola has 39 grams, or almost the whole day’s allotment. Make it a typical medium-sized fast food soft drink (21 fluid ounces) and there are 44 grams of sugar.
To avoid sugar and satisfy desire for sweets, many turn to artificial sweeteners. Whether the preference is for the pink packages of saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low), blue ones with aspartame (Equal), yellow filled with sucralose (Splenda) or newer options like Truvia, millions of Americans use the tabletop forms of artificial sweeteners daily. Foods and diet soft drinks add to the level of consumption of the products.
The good news about artificial sweeteners is the lack of calories and sugar. The bad news is that people’s bodies react in many ways the same or worse with the chemical compounds than real sugar.
Several studies have been conducted on artificial sweeteners. Unfortunately, the data is inconclusive and confusing. Even studies from the 1970s on saccharin that showed health problems any resulted in limits and warning labels that read, “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.”
In 2005, a University of Texas study found that the more diet sodas a person drank, the more likely the person was to gain weight. Since then, other studies have tied artificial sweeteners to kidney problems, vascular issues, and forms of cancer. Recent studies have shown that regular consumption of diet soft drinks can alter a person’s gut bacteria and possibly lead to metabolic syndrome or prediabetes.
The American sweet tooth needs to be curbed. The number one step is becoming more aware of the sugar or other sweeteners (such as fructose) in dietary choices are the enemy of a healthy weight. It is suggested that people cut their intake of items with added sweeteners of any kind (as opposed to fruits and items with natural levels of sugar in them). Three-fourths of the population eats too few vegetables and fruit, according to federal data. As the guidelines state, “Small shifts in food choices—over the course of a week, a day, or even a meal—can make a big difference.”
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Health.gov: 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Wall Street Journal: Coke Looks to Get Pop From New Ad Campaign
CNN: Health effects of artificial sweeteners: Where do we stand?
Photo courtesy of U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion