Well, as we all know, sugary foods are utterly addicting; they are a concentrated, highly refined carbohydrate. Why is it so addictive? Well, let’s think back to our ancestors…
Imagine being a hunter and gatherer, constantly having to search for your next meal. One day you fall upon a bush of blueberries; sweet balls of sugar that almost instantaneously raise blood sugar levels! This quick energy made us adapted to loving these quick energy foods. But society today has emphasized our love for sugary foods by providing an abundance of them, however, they are not needed in such large amounts. Although we do need carbohydrates, we do not need foods that instantaneously give us energy like we used to.
Now that we have a better understanding for humanity’s innate love for sugar, we can further analyze the situation. Perhaps, for many this is old news, but it seems the situation has only worsened. Countries are eating more and more sugar, with the top 3 countries with highest sugar consumption being Finland(109g/day), Germany(109g/day) and in first USA(126g/day). Although the side effects of sugar are well established, it seems nothing can stop the rise in consumption.
What will it take to change our societal addiction to sugar? What can we do to help? We must first take a look at the history behind our addiction to see exactly how the problem unraveled.
- The sugar cane crop spread around the Eastern Pacific and Indian oceans around 3,500 years ago, carried by Austronesian and Polynesian seafarers.
- First chemically refined sugar appeared on the scene in India about 2500 years ago; then the technique spread east towards China, and west towards Persia. Eventually making it to the Mediterranean in the 13th century.
- Throughout the middle ages sugar was considered a rare and expensive spice.
- Around 1647 Brazilian sugar cane was being mass produced and was introduced to the Caribbean which shortly led to the growth of the industry.
- Huge demand for sugar industry was made possible by the labor of slaves who were shipped from Africa to the Americas between 1500’s-1800’s.
- Mass consumption since the 17th century heavily influenced the increase in disease. (www.iflscience.com)
Modern 20th century
– Per capita consumption of refined sugars in the United States from 1970 to 2000. Adapted from the US Department of Agriculture .
– We have seen an exponential correlation between sugar consumption and diseases such as obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome etc.
-This picture illustrates perfectly how sugars have been incorporated into the western diet, and most importantly our culture. What makes things most scary is that most these sweetened products are advertised to the future of our country: children.
Now what we all been waiting for, what can we do as future health professionals?
- If a person’s life long habits are usually attained while they’re young, then we must educate parents on proper nutrition, effects of overconsumption, and give them tips on how to make lower-sugar versions of their favorites at home. For example, using a natural non-caloric sweetener such as stevia, or using oat flour when making cookies to increase fiber content and lower the products glycemic index, are just a few ways people can take their sugar intake into their own hands.
- Another great pointer to give people is for them to pay attention to their macro-balance. By advising people to monitor their consumption of the three macronutrients, they can make sure to have appropriate amounts of each, instead of carbo-loading. This balance varies depending on the activity and individual needs of a person and should be determined by a health professional. But, for the sake of regulating blood sugar, diets higher in protein and fat while being lower in carbs has been seen to have beneficial effects in regulating blood sugar. (www.diabetesincontrol.com)
– A few examples of how someone’s macro-nutrients maybe distributed.
- Sometimes it is easy to forget that we vote with our wallets, so we as future health professionals should try our best to lower the demand for products with added sugars. By buying wholesome minimally processed foods and advising our clients to do the same, we can create a lower demand for these foods. Furthermore, getting involved in your local community and being an activist for things like the taxation of sugary drinks or putting a minimum age limit on the purchase of soft drinks. The ideas may seem radical, but, for a change to take place we must push for change! A great example of change occurring is in Berkeley California, which is the first city to begin the taxation of sugary drinks. As of January 2017, over $2.5 million has been raised by the tax, to go to community health and nutrition efforts, including school garden programs. For more information visit http://www.berkeleyvsbigsoda.com/faq .
- People who have been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome are at high risk to develop diseases such as diabetes. As future health professionals, we should advise our clients with symptoms of metabolic syndrome to get frequent blood glucose testing; and even healthy adults should be advised since some diseases are caused through genetic disposition and not dietary intake.
- A1C- Longer-term glycemic control assesses glycosylated hemoglobin. Dangerous levels of glycosylated hemoglobin occurs when blood glucose levels remain high (hyperglycemic) for long periods of time.
- Normal A1C is 4-6%, anything higher then 6.5% would indicate a person is diabetic.
- Another common method of checking glucose levels is Fasting Plasma Glucose, this test is done after an 8 hr. fasting period. Levels greater than or equal to 126 mg/dl diagnoses a person as diabetic.
Through parental education, macronutrient balance, high quality/minimally processed foods, political contributions, and monitoring the blood glucose levels of our clients, we can assist in one of the biggest epidemics this world has ever faced. Sugar consumption maybe part of our innate senses for survival, but, ironically it’s consumption has influenced the death of millions. Let’s fight for the promotion of health and vitality that will improve the lives of millions!