The Truth Will Make You Fat

At this time last year we were two months into preliminary production on our documentary “Something Sweet” which explores the role that sugar and sweeteners play in the American diet and culture. Our concept was simple: one of us (and by “one of us” I mean “me”) would avoid all foods with added sugar and sweeteners starting at New Years Day to see what kind of effect it would have on our energy level, weight, emotional health, social habits, etc. At this time last year, after two months without sugar, I had lost ten pounds. 

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At first I thought that these results were a fluke- just my body overreacting to such a comprehensive diet change. After all, there were very basic foods that I wasn’t eating anymore like bread. However, for the remaining months of the project the new weight varied only by a few pounds in either direction. It didn’t seem to matter what else I was eating (real butter anyone?) as long as I was avoiding sweetened foods the weight stayed off. 
“But,” You may ask, “What happens when you DO start eating sugar and sweetened foods again?” Well, lets just say that those ten pounds weren’t really gone, they just went on a year long sabbatical. They’re back now. Talk about discouraging!
I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, so instead I spoke with a nutritionist: Jennifer Vimbor at Chicago Nutritionists to be specific. The weight loss was a nice perk, but when we started this project we weren’t looking for a weight loss plan- in fact we weren’t trying to bad mouth sugar at all: we were trying to find out whether it would taste sweeter if we didn’t have it a little bit every day. It turns out that to the average American, that “little bit” isn’t so little after all.  
According to Vimbor the daily recommended amount of sugar the average American is supposed to consume is 40g per day- that is, in plain english, 40 teaspoons, or slightly less than a quarter of a cup. Sound like a lot? It’s not as much as you might think. For instance: here is what an average American’s daily diet might look like: 
1 cup raisin bran:                         17g sugars
1 cup 1% milk:                            13g sugars
12 oz glass orange juice               33g sugars (Are you keeping track?  63 g and it’s still             
16 oz Cafe Mocha                        33g sugars
Ham sandwich:
2 slices white bread                      2g sugars
6 slices ham (honey baked)           2g sugars
2 tbsp mayonaise                         2g sugars
100g baby carrots                        5g sugars
1/2 cup fruit cocktail                    11g sugars
3 cookies                                    12g sugars
16oz Regular cola                        53g sugars
1/3 cup tril mix (w/chocolate)        11g sugars
1cup cooked pasta                      1g sugars
1/2 cup marinara sauce                11g sugars
1 slice garlic bread                      1 g sugars
1 cup garden salad                      3 g sugars
2 tbsp italian dressing                  2 g sugars
18 fl oz sweetened ice tea           21g sugars
1/2 cup chocolate ice cream        17g sugars
TOTAL SUGARS:                       250g 
Ouch! 250g of sugar in one day! That’s about six times the recommended daily amount according to the USDA. If you are imagining this in terms of cups of sugar that is one and a half cups of sugar in a day. 
“Ah ha!” I thought. “But I was avoiding foods with added sugars in them- surely my daily average was right around the recommended daily amount!”
However it is important to remember that some foods contain sugar naturally, rather than having it added. While the treat of a cafe mocha was off-limits during this grand experiment other, more natural, foods like orange juice were still fair game. For the sake of comparison, here is what a day without added sugar might look like: 
1/2 cup museli (unsweetened)    10g sugar
1 cup 1%milk                            13g sugar
12 oz orange juice (unsweetened) 33g sugar
12 oz Black coffee                      0g sugar
1 flour tortilla                              1g sugar
1 cup shredded cheese               1g sugar
2 tbsp sour cream                       0g sugar
100g baby carrots                       5g sugars
1 apple                                      23g sugars
2oz golden raisins                      34g sugars
1cup cooked pasta                    1g sugars
1/2 cup marinara sauce              11g sugars
1 cup garden salad                     3 g sugars
Oil and vinegar dressing             0g sugars
12 oz glass of milk                    20g sugars
TOTAL                                     155g sugars
Were you expecting a smaller number? I was. After all, I went without dessert for months and months! I thought surely I would be hovering righteously close to the recommended daily amount. Clearly, even someone avoiding foods with added sugars may find themselves consuming 3-4 times the recommended daily amount of sugar in the average day from naturally occurring sugars in fruits and vegetables. 
So what is the moral of the story? The most salient point, I suppose, is that we are often unaware of exactly how much sugar we consume everyday. Even after double checking every morsel of food for added sugar for months on end I myself was not aware of how much sugar I still consumed. With this in mind, maybe it is just as important to pay attention to the “healthy” foods that I eat as well as the junk food when a waistline is the bottom line. 

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