We are fatter than we’ve ever been. The United States is facing an epidemic with respect to the level of obesity in our country. Based on data from the National Centre for Health Statistics, 34% of American adults over the age of 20 are obese (2007-2008). Today, the average American consumes approximately 180 pounds of sugar annually compared to the 1800’s when that number was only about 18 pounds a year. It's pretty scary to think where we are, but it's even scarier to think what this will mean for the future if we don't get educated on the dangers of this potent provision.
Over the years I've come to understand that sugar is the most misunderstood food item we consume. Most of the struggles we encounter in trying to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle have to do with this misconception about sugar. Most people associate sugar with highly sweet food products. Donuts, ice cream, candy bars and chocolate chip cookies are obvious examples of food products that contain sugar, but what if I told you that your body doesn't know the difference between that donut you had for breakfast or the baked potato you had with dinner. In fact, whether you consume a couple slices of whole wheat bread, a bowl of pasta or a chocolate bar your body breaks it down to the exact same substance. Sugar can take many forms in the food we eat (sucrose, fructose, and maltose to name a few), but through our body's digestion and absorption process it all breaks down to the same thing…glucose. Glucose is the simplest form of sugar and it’s what our body needs to ensure we receive the energy we require to go about our day. Glucose is an important nutrient when it comes to fueling our bodies, but once your body has processed all the sugar it needs to function it stores the extra as fat. By eating a balanced diet from natural sources such as meat, vegetables, fruit and dairy you are getting more than enough of the glucose your body needs to function at its best. It's important to realize that your body has a limited capacity to store excess sugar after it converts to glucose, but it can easily convert it into excess body fat.
The major challenge in controlling our sugar intake today is that excess refined sugar is hiding in most pre-packaged foods on the market. Advertising labels on processed foods makes it difficult for the average consumer to know what they are actually buying. Messaging on food packages such as “fat-free” and “less than 200 calories” are misleading if you aren’t aware of the dangers of sugar. Processed foods are loaded with sugar and other chemicals that work to prolong the shelf-life of the product and make it taste appealing after the manufacturer has removed most of the essential nutrients.
So how do you start to eliminate, or at the very least, reduce the amount of sugar you are consuming on a daily basis?
It’s really just about getting back to the basics. Getting away from packaged food products and frozen entrees and introducing real, whole foods back into your diet is the only way to be successful.
Now it’s important to note that sugar is a drug and as with any drug if you have been consuming a lot of it over an extended period of time, your body has most likely become addicted to it. That being said, getting off sugar is not an easy feat. If it were, we could jump into just about any commercial diet plan on the market and see lasting weight loss results. But, if you’ve ever been on a diet you know that is simply not the case. If you think of sugar the same as nicotine, caffeine or dare I say even narcotics, you will be better equipped to understand this process will not happen overnight.
A good place to start is to try and eliminate something from your diet that contains refined sugar about once a week and replace it with something natural, but enjoyable. For example, if you regularly eat frozen dinners, stop! Fresh or even frozen fish fillets are easy to prepare. There are tons of varieties to choose from so ask the guy behind the seafood counter to recommend something that’s not too “fishy”. Couple that with some fresh or frozen cooked veggies. If that's all you change for the next 3 months...congratulations! You’ve just cut about 3 inches from your waistline. How "sweet" is that!