Sitting is the New Smoking; Is Sugar the New Heroin?

Have you heard that sugar is more addictive than heroin?

A recent guest/heath expert on my Mountain Mantras: Wellness and Life Lessons podcast made that statement. I personally have not seen the scientific evidence of this, but based on some of the experiences I have heard from my clients around extreme cravings and “detox” symptoms when trying to give up sugar (headache, fatigue, mood swings, etc.), I can believe it.

I have written about the addictive qualities of sugar in the past, and I have worked with families to introduce fun strategies to manage “sugar addictions”.

A recent article from the Wall Street Journal reported, “Americans should get no more than 6% of their daily calories from added sugar, a federal committee recommends, down from the current 10% guideline.”

Can you imagine hearing: “Americans should get no more than 6% of supplements and medications from heroin”?

I know that is hyperbole, but I’m just trying to point out all the confusion around nutrition advice and any guidelines for added sugar consumption or reduction. The confusion has in part, in my view, contributed to rising obesity levels in our country.

Obesity is known to be damaging to one’s health – and it has been linked to an increased risk of health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer—and raises the risk for severe illness with Covid-19.

What strategies can we use to moderate our sugar intake?

I’m going to focus on strategies particularly for parents here, as I’m particularly worried about our little kiddos and how much sugar they are exposed to (and how it affects their health). 

Here are my simple but hopefully effective recommendations:

– You as a parent have control over the types of foods that your children can access in the home.  So one of the best things you can do is to simply buy more healthy, fresh food and buy less “junk” food.

– If and when you offer your kids a higher sugar treat, make sure to pair it with a protein or high fiber item that will help to regulate blood sugar levels.

– Beware of drinking in too much sugar:  avoid sugary drinks and eat whole fruit instead of juice.

– You can help to train your kids’ taste buds by gradually reducing sugar in recipes for baked goods and other home-made items when you can control what goes in.

– Encourage your kiddos to eat more veggies by choice.

– You can also act as a great role model for your kids as you select healthy meals and snacks for yourself and display enjoyment at eating a bowl of fresh fruit for dessert instead of a high added-sugar alternative.

– Taking kids through the aisles of grocery stores with you to read labels and compare sugar amounts in various items can also empower your kids with the knowledge to make great choices. Remember to go beyond the label/Nutrition Facts (the percentages of sodium, fat, etc.) and find the gold in the ingredients list. The ingredients list is really where we learn what’s in these foods and if they are added. For example, tomatoes have a lot of naturally occurring sugar, so at first glance, a can of tomatoes may appear to have a high percentage of sugar… however, if the ingredients list is simply “tomatoes”, then we know that sugar is not added. Other foods – many of which you may not even expect sugar to be in – have added sugar in the ingredients list, and unless you know where and what to look for. There are many words used to describe sugar (corn syrup, sugar cane, high fructose corn syrup, cane juice, to name a few) and if they are included in the ingredients list, they’ve been added.

By getting educated, inspired, and making the right choice, we can take back our health and our power.

To learn about my nonprofit work with children and families to support their journey toward more healthy, whole-foods based, home-cooked meals, please read Nurture’s story. 

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