It’s no secret that America has a serious sugar habit. Despite the 2105 Dietary Advisory Committee’s strong recommendation to limit sugars to 10 percent of daily caloric intake, sugar consumption is still on the rise—on average, Americans eat 160 pounds of sugar every year.
One of the biggest culprits that leads to such rampant sweetener consumption is sugary drinks. An alarming percentage of the population is lulled into the belief that their soda habit can’t possibly be that bad for them. After all, it’s a drink, not a dessert…right?
A mountain of research evidence reveals just how backward this kind of thinking is. All sugar, whether it’s in the form of a donut, a Coke, or a glass of fruit juice, is linked with severe systemic inflammation and chronic disease.
And it turns out that sugary drinks may be the worst offender of all. This is because sodas and other soft drinks usually contain high-fructose corn syrup or some other form of fructose.
Sugars come in two primary forms: glucose and fructose. While both forms wreak havoc on the body, fructose has the added disadvantage of being completely useless for energy production (in fact, it can even cause mitochondrial dysfunction). When you consume glucose, at least some it is used to produce a short-term supply of energy. Fructose, on the other hand, is sent straight to the liver for processing, where it causes the same kind of damage as alcohol and other toxins. It imbalances metabolism, taxes the immune system, and then is simply stored as fat, since the body has a difficult time turning it into any usable form of energy.
Perhaps this is why recent research suggests that sugary drinks are responsible for 183,000 deaths every year (133,000 from diabetes, 44,000 from heart disease, and 6,000 from cancer).
And don’t think that this fate can only be suffered by “major sugar addicts.” A new study presented in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming beverages sweetened with fructose for only two weeks increased risk factors for heart disease—even if only a small amount of fructose was used in the beverage.
Another study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) demonstrated that individuals who consume just 25% of their daily calories in the form of sugar are twice as likely to die from heart disease.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A wealth of research suggests that any more than 25 grams of fructose (even over a short period of time) can lead to a staggering array of chronic illnesses, including cardiac abnormalities, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, kidney disease and dysfunction, obesity, cancer, and even intracranial atherosclerosis—a narrowing and hardening of the arteries in the skull that can lead to strokes and cognitive disease.
And just to put things in perspective: a single can of Coke contains 44 grams of fructose.
So why do people continue to eat so much sugar, despite all of this hard evidence suggesting we should steer clear of it?
Well, it turns out that sugar is highly addictive. One study even suggests that it’s more addictive than cocaine and heroin. And our habit is sustained by a monumentally profitable industry, which seeks to convince us that consuming their product is just fine. Fancy packaging, propaganda campaigns, and complex supply chains ensure that sugary drinks and treats are always within reach.
All this marketing magic normalizes sugar consumption. It distracts our attention from the truth that sugar is an addictive drug that can every bit as destructive as demonized substances like cocaine and heroin.
But it’s time to kick our sugar habit
If we can change our minds about sugar, we can change the habits that keep us chained to it. This is precisely the psychological change that researchers hope to facilitate by shedding light on sugar’s addictive qualities.
“Think Before You Drink”—a slogan now being touted in the context of sugary drinks—is a perfect guideline for this process of recalibrating your opinion of sugar. Whenever you take a sip of a fructose-filled beverage, remind yourself about what you’re really doing: This drink contains large amounts of a highly addictive substance that will inflame my body, increase my risk of heart disease, make me fat, and eventually lead to chronic disease…do I really want this stuff in my body?
After a little while of repeating this statement to yourself every time you consume sugar, chances are that you’ll come to see it in all its destructive glory. Before long, the aversion you feel to its negative effects will outweigh your craving for it—even if you really love sugar.
And in the meantime, handle your cravings by replacing sugar with less harmful sweeteners like stevia and coconut sugar. Seltzer water with a splash of fruit juice (and a bit of stevia if you need more sweetness) makes a great soda replacement.
By cleansing your life of all the myriad forms of sugar, you’ll have more energy, a stronger immune system, a healthier heart, and a fitter body. Best of all, you’ll free yourself from the dependency upon the corrupt sugar industry, which profits at the expense of an addicted and chronically ill populace.