Tyrrell: Reduce your sugar intake

Eileen Tyrrell

The biggest killer of American citizens is not an AR-15, a car or a cigarette. The biggest killer lurks in your drinks and your bread and your cereal, and can be linked to hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.

That killer is sugar.

In the past few months, there have been waves of activism toward various public health measures: gun control, the opioid crisis, even driving safety. All of these are serious and uniquely American health problems that should be duly addressed; yet none of them tackle the biggest threat of all.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death for Americans, and diabetes comes in seventh. Those diseases, along with other complications related to obesity, cause the most death in America.

The AHA recommends women consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day, and men no more than 38. But the average American nearly triples that, for a whopping 82 grams each day. The risks associated with sugar clearly aren’t enough to stop millions of Americans from overindulging every day, and part of the reason is the concentrated and vicious efforts made by the sugar industry for the past 50 years to hide its deleterious effects.

Starting in the 1960s, the Sugar Research Foundation poured money into studies hiding the dangers of sugar consumption, pinning the blame on fat instead. They knew that if people cut down on fat, they’d look for something to take its place — ideally, sugar. Low fat, high-sugar foods flooded the market, and sugar was pumped into everything: white bread, yogurt, dressing, even spaghetti sauce. Even as recent as 2015, the New York Times reported Coca-Cola was teaming up with scientists to push “research” that dietary changes aren’t as necessary as exercising in order to lose weight.

So it’s hard to blame the average Joe for not realizing their healthy, low-fat diet was actually doing more damage to their waistline (and heart) than a diet full of healthy fats and reduced sugar. What we can blame the average Joe for is not caring.

The truth is out. Everyone needs sugar in their diet, and even added sugar is okay in moderation, but the massive amounts of added sugar we’re consuming every day is literally killing us, and it’s time to change that.

At first glance, it can seem intimidating to try and get down to 25 or 38 grams of added sugar a day. After all, one Clif Bar contains 22 grams, a bowl of Raisin Bran has 18 and there are five in one measly tablespoon of French dressing. But once you get past the first few days and push through your cravings, the process gets a lot easier. Suddenly you find yourself with more energy, and even craving fruits and vegetables over chocolate and ice cream.

I cut added sugar out of my diet a month ago. Have I made exceptions? Absolutely. A healthy diet is all about balance, and social eating — things like grabbing ice cream with friends or celebrating special occasions with a slice of cake — is important too. But for the most part, I’ve avoided over saturated foods like candy, cereal, soda and desserts, and the longer I stick to it, the easier it gets. It isn’t hard to resist grabbing a cookie with every meal, or giving into my late night cravings for something sugary, because I don’t get those cravings anymore.

I’m not advocating for a sugar-free diet as the perfect solution to every health problem. Each person is different in what works for them. But science has more than shown a high-sugar diet is killing Americans, and it’s time to do something about it.