Europeans brought many things to the “New World”. Among the worst were disease and slavery. Sugar is somewhere in the middle. Let us explain.
When Europeans brought sugar cane to the Caribbean, merchants needed workers for cultivation. They brought in slaves from West Africa. They reaped huge profits from the slaves, the sugar, and the rum.
Sugar cane may be a great economic plant for growers - it is still used to produce sugar, rum, along with ethanol, plastic, and electricity. But the sugar is pushed into our diets like a drug.
After World War II, scientists found that our body weight, obesity, and diabetes all increased, as well as dental cavities. The main cause was the use of sugar in our foods and drinks.
We now have meals with Coca Cola, Pepsi, and other “soft drinks”. We give our kids apple or orange juice day and night. We refresh ourselves at the gym with Gatorade or Powerade. All are sugar-sweetened drinks. Some, like fruit juices, have natural sugars. Other manufactured foods have added sugars. Slowly we’ve become dependent on the sugar in these drinks.
Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that children consume 16 percent of their total calories from added sugars. The international recommendations are for no more than 5 percent of calories come from sugar.
What does this really mean? Let us have a go.
Five percent is equivalent to about 5 sugar cubes a day for a 5-year-old. For teens, the safe amount of sugar is the equivalent of about 10 sugar cubes a day. (A sugar cube has the same amount of sugar as a teaspoon.)
To estimate the number of sugar cubes in any food, we divide the number of grams by 5 and the number of calories by 15.
To give you an idea of the amount of sugar in our food, SugarStacks.com made some photos.
A single drink delivers more than the safe single day sugar dose for a 5 year old. Sadly, sugar isn’t just in drinks. Sugar also lives in the snacks we give to our kids.
Sugar is also in some of the breakfast foods we feed our kids.
This adds up, day-to-day, week-to-week, year-to-year. One of the earliest clues of sugar dependency is dental cavities. Around one in three Mexican youths in the U.S. have had cavities in their teeth. For Mexican children it is even higher – one in two have cavities.
So what are some alternates to sugar sweetened beverages and snacks? What about carrots? They are healthy, filling, and nutritious. In short, a great snack.
As children become adults the effects of sugar moves beyond cavities to obesity, and diabetes. And this is not just a U.S. problem.
Mexico is the 7th largest producer of sugar in the Americas (Brazil is number one.) Mexicans drink on average 43 gallons of sugar sweetened beverages a year. Seventy-one percent of Mexicans are overweight and 21% are obese. Finally, diabetes is the leading cause of death in Mexico.
To address the poisoning effect of sugar, Mexico imposed a 10% tax on soda and an 8% tax on junk food (cookies, candy, ice cream and chips) in 2014.
In 2015 scientists saw almost a 20% drop in sugar sweetened beverage sales. The reduction in sales - and consumption - was the highest among the poorest. The poorest are more affected by the consequences of eating sugars. So, this tax is promising.
Similar taxes are now being implemented in Chile, Barbados and other Latin American countries.
While the U.S., has not implemented this tax, the city of Berkeley in California, and the Navajo Nation in Arizona both enacted sugar sweetened beverage taxes, and made fresh fruits and vegetables tax-free.
Europeans brought many things to the “New World.” Looking back, among the worst were sugar cane and slavery.
We are aware of the sugar we put in our coffee, milk, or tea. But we are blind to the sugar added to our children’s food, drinks, and snacks.
If we want our children to live long and prosper, look at their teeth. Dental cavities are the early warnings of too much sugar.
Ask your doctor or dentist about sugar, and protect your children and your family.
*Dr. Eugenio David Beltrán-Aguilar and Dr. Richard Niederman teach in NYU College of Dentistry, Department of Epidemiology & Health Promotion. For more information or to become a patient, please visit the website of the New York University College of Dentistry.