The bitter side of sweet

It’s difficult to keep up with current health trends and what’s “in” and what’s “out” in the nutritional world. Back in the 70s and 80s, and even into the 90s, fats were a dietary no-no. But in 1996, they came back in full force in the form of the ketogenic diet, a low-carb diet full of fats and proteins shown to promote weight loss. Athletes are constantly harassed about their macronutrient intake, specifically protein and carbohydrates. And of course, simple carbohydrates like bread have been considered Public Enemy No. 1 since the 90s.

It’s a lot to keep up with. How is someone supposed to be healthy in today’s day and age with all of these competing dietary fads? Is fat bad? Are carbohydrates bad? How much protein is too much? (Yes, there is such a thing as too much protein, and your kidneys will suffer because of it!) But amidst the fad diets, the forbidden foods, and the eat-all-you-want-and-more “health” foods, there is one common enemy that will never be refuted: sugar.

Have you ever wondered why there is a daily value limit for every nutrient and macronutrient on your Nutrition Facts label, except for sugar? Have you ever wondered why obesity rates are on the rise, despite America’s obsession with weight loss? (According to ABC News, America spends an estimated $20 billion on weight loss products every year.)

Here are your answers: the average woman can have 25 g of sugar a day, while the average man can have 37.5 g of sugar a day. The average American consumes 76.7 g of sugar a day. There are 77 g of sugar in one bottle of Mountain Dew. Sugar does not require a daily value on a nutrition label because it is not even a nutrient; it can be synthesized by our bodies from other carbohydrates. Therefore, when we consume excess sugar, it is stored as fat on our bodies for future use.

When fat was the nutritional enemy back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, many fat-free products were marketed as a healthier option. However, the fat was replaced with sugar, dropping calorie counts but simultaneously decreasing satiety levels of their consumers (because sugar is digested much faster than fat.) Soon, Americans were eating more and more of the fat-free products touted for weight loss, wondering why they couldn’t drop the weight they wanted to lose.

When the general public realized their fat-free options didn’t correspond to fat loss, they embarked upon the other extreme: high fat ketogenic diets. These diets have much more promising results with regard to weight loss, but there’s a catch: your body needs one week to adjust to a no-carb diet. This is called entering a metabolic state of ketosis. If you go over a certain small limit of carbs in one day, your body reverts back to its natural glucose-burning metabolism mechanism. Therefore, true ketogenic diets are difficult to maintain and not entirely practical for everyone. So what’s the magic bullet? How can you be healthy in a world that can’t make up its mind on nutrition?

The best answer: decrease your sugar intake. Sugar actually serves no nutritional purpose in our bodies because our bodies can synthesize sugar from other carbohydrate sources. For athletes, sugar is often used as a way to get quick energy, since our bodies don’t have to go through the metabolic steps to make sugar. But even for athletes, too much sugar is a bad thing. Sugar is considered an addictive substance and works to stimulate serotonin and dopamine in your brain, similar to the way narcotics operate in your brain. No wonder many food companies include tons of added sugars in their products! The more sugar they add, the more the general public will continue to buy their product. It’s a clever business tactic, but it’s destroying American health. The historical trends don’t lie: sugar is the new nutritional Public Enemy No. 1 to be avoided as much as possible to promote a healthy lifestyle.

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Audrey Miller is a writer for The Lorian.

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