By Melinda Carstensen, SELF magazine
You know consuming too much sugar can be detrimental to your health, but now, some researchers are suggesting it's so harmful that the government should regulate it as heavily as alcohol and tobacco -- and even put a tax on it.
Like alcohol, sugar affects your blood pressure, metabolism and liver, argues Dr. Robert Lustig, endocrinology director of the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health Program at the University of California at San Francisco.
"It can also suppress the hormones in our bodies that tell us we have eaten enough, thereby leading to overeating and craving for more sugar. It also, like alcohol, affects the 'pleasure center' of the brain and makes you consume more," Dr. Lustig tells HealthySELF.
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So why should the government tax sugar? In an opinion piece published in the Feb. 1 edition of the journal Nature, Lustig and colleagues argue that value-added taxes and sales taxes on alcohol and tobacco have discouraged people from consuming these substances, and the same could be done for products high in added sugar.
They don't specify where revenue from such a tax would go. The first step, they argue, is finding a way to raise awareness of the health harms of consuming excess sugar. "Successful interventions all share a common end-point: curbing availability," they write.
Andrea N. Giancoli, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a registered dietician, says taxing sugar could be a great way to educate the public. "I think that added sugar is an issue in our diet," she says. "A lot of people don't recognize where it is."
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The average American today consumes 43,800 more calories from added sugar per year than in 1977, SELF reported in July 2011. If a woman's added-sugar consumption increases by more than 20 percent, her body-mass index rises two to three points -- enough to cause her to move from the normal to overweight or obese category, according to a 27-year study from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.
Obesity, partially caused by consuming too much sugar, contributes to the 35 million deaths that occur worldwide each year from diabetes, heart disease and cancer, Lustig and his colleagues argue.
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Here are a few tips for reducing your sugar intake:
--"Learn to be a food label expert," Dr. Lustig advises. Although beverages pack the most added sugar, companies add sugar to some of the foods we consider healthiest, like flavored yogurt and bread.
--In ingredient descriptions, look for the words sugar, agave syrup, honey and those ending in "ose" (dextrose, fructose, sucrose), SELF contributing experts Stephanie Clarke, R.D., and Willow Jarosh, R.D., advised in SELF's July 2011 issue.
--Better yet, eat fresh, not processed food. "If a food has a Nutrition Facts label, by definition, the food has been processed in some fashion," Dr. Lustig says.
--The experts SELF polled say to aim for less than 10 percent of calories from added sugar. If you're eating 1,800 calories, that's 180 calories, or a can of soda and four Life Savers.
But this doesn't mean you have to give up the sweet stuff altogether! "Truthfully, sugar does make things taste better," Giancoli admits. "I would never say, 'Don't enjoy your dessert or your treat.' I am personally a dessert person, and I'm not going to eliminate that. But the word 'moderation' is key."