America has a sugar problem, and it’s growing bigger every day. Did you know that it is estimated that one in four people has diabetes or is in a pre-diabetic condition?

In 1801, historians estimated that sugar consumption per person was about 8.4 pounds of sugar per year, which translated to about 2.2 teaspoons per day. Current consumption has ballooned to around 170lbs. a year, or about a cup a day!

The rise in refined sugar consumption has created a nation of obese and undernourished people who eventually have to succumb to insulin to facilitate blood glucose entry into cells for energy.

We are simply not aware of the relationship between health and sugar, which is not surprising, since sugar has many faces, a large part of which are much less than obvious. Sugar isn’t just the sweet white stuff that’s sprinkled on cereal or added to coffee.

As for the obvious places where sugar abounds, there are cakes, cookies, pastries, and candies, which not only contain sugar, but are often loaded with excess sugar—more sugar than our taste buds require. In fact, there is an ‘extra icing on the cake’.

Then there are soft drinks, sweetened with HFCS (high fructose corn syrup).

Also, all processed carbohydrates are essentially sugar! In addition to the obvious places where sugar resides, it also hides in bread, bagels, cereal, canned goods, pasta sauce, crackers, yogurt, salad dressing, and peanut butter.

I’ve said this many times before, but it bears repeating. Learn to read food labels and do so with everything you consider putting in your shopping basket. Keep an eye out for the many forms of sugar.

Most people are beginning to understand the dangers of high fructose corn syrup, the most common culprit. A highly concentrated and highly processed sweetener, it is widely used because it is cheap. As such, companies get untold mileage from just a small amount of HFCS. Watch out for products that have HFCS in the ingredients.

But HFCS is not the end. If you’re trying to avoid sugar, you should also look for corn syrup solids; fructose; dextrose; lactose; maltodextrin; ethyl maltol; barley malt; diastasis; sorbitol; modified corn starches; saccharose; and carob syrup.

To determine how many teaspoons of sugar are in a product, take the number of grams of sugar and divide by 4. So if a product has 28 grams of sugar, think of 7 teaspoons of sugar.

Examples:

• Half a cup of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey contains 28 grams or 7 teaspoons of sugar.

• A 16-ounce Starbucks Large Strawberry Cream Frappuccino with whipped cream includes 85 grams, or approximately 21 teaspoons, of sugar.

• Big Gulp or Super Sized sodas are the worst and can have over 20 teaspoons of sugar!

And while it’s tempting, don’t think of artificial sweeteners as part of the solution. Artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, aspartame, and saccharin present their own set of problems and should be avoided at all costs.

These sweeteners, offered alone or ruthlessly marketed in the form of diet products or as products that are healthy or healthier than their ‘naturally sweetened’ counterparts, are actually nasty chemicals, possibly pesticide safe, but certainly not for human consumption .

A good alternative to sugar is stevia, especially green stevia if you can find it. Not only is this herb very sweet, but it also has health benefits and does not spike blood glucose like real sugar. Agave nectar is also a better substitution.

Also, don’t be fooled into thinking that using more natural sugars like honey or raw sugar is a safe bet. If you have problems with blood sugar control, sugar is still sugar.

For many of us, an improved diet requires a better understanding of health and sugar, and usually translates into a reduction in our overall sugar intake.

At first, it may feel like something is missing: your body may even go into withdrawal, seeking out sugar/sweetness as if it were a drug.

Start dealing with your sugar cravings by adding sweet vegetables like carrots or beets, or eat an apple or other fresh fruit. Although fruit has sugar, there are enough nutrients and fiber in these foods to slow digestion, preventing rapid spikes in blood glucose.

Eventually, you’ll learn to replace old sugar or artificially sweetened foods with better options. Your body will reward you, you will feel less irritable and more in balance.

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