Manitoba·Point of View

Nothing sweet about dangerous effects of our addiction to sugar

Kicking a sugar habit is tough, says Jo Davies — and she argues we need to stop sugar-coating the truth about the harmful effects of the sweet stuff.

A sugar habit is hard to kick, says Jo Davies — but overconsumption comes with a host of health problems

It's time to take a bite out of our dangerous sugar addiction, says Jo Davies. (Donna Carreiro/CBC)

With all the chatter about superheroes nowadays, it got me thinking about what kind of superpower I might want. 

Invisibility was appealing, considering it might help me figure out who this "Not Me" is who keeps leaving the milk on the counter and using up all the T.P. without bothering to replace the roll. 

I ended up picking one the great Stan Lee never mentioned: willpower. 

With that, I'd finally be able to vanquish my mortal enemy — the one that's left me jittery, sleepless and fearful of mirrors.

You know — the white stuff. The devil's plaything.

Yes, folks. I'm talking sugar. 

Sugary foods, like Trump memes, are everywhere.- Jo Davies

For years now, the siren song of sugar has proven irresistible. I still remember the thrill of sneaking sugar cubes straight from the bowl at baby showers and spring teas. My only responsibilities were to keep my outfit clean and not to fight with my brother. 

In elementary school, walks to 7-Eleven with friends inevitably meant using our spare change to buy treats like Bottle Caps, blue whales and Pop Rocks — perhaps with a side of Pixie Stix, those paper straws filled with (sigh) sugar. 

High school brought Slurpee runs or walks to Dairy Queen for ice cream after school. 

University was a blur of colas, with sugar and caffeine crucial to pulling all-nighters to cram for exams or finish papers due the next day.

Over the years, all of that sweet stuff took its toll.

Sugar, sugar everywhere

At 5-10, I went from 138 pounds in university to 260 today; a fact of which I'm mightily ashamed, especially considering I did it to myself. No one held a gun to my head to get me to consume all that sugar. Now I'm left to turn those numbers around through (you guessed it) diet and exercise. 

I've been working out four to five times a week for nearly two years, so what's left is eliminating as much sugar from my diet as possible. 

Sound simple? Well, if the only thing I had to worry about was pop and chocolate bars, it would be relatively easy. Unfortunately, sugary foods, like Trump memes, are absolutely everywhere. 

Researchers say manfacturers add sugar to a whopping 74 per cent of packaged foods sold in grocery stores. It's added for a variety of reasons: to improve taste, colour, flavour, texture. It helps with fermentation and preservation. Things you might never suspect (like ketchup, breads, yogurt, salad dressing, baked beans, soups and granola) all have added sugars. 

So many of us are dying from a legal substance that is found literally everywhere.- Jo Davies

Read the label, you say! 

Well, manufacturers have an interesting habit of using alternative names for the sugar they add to their products. According to the University of California (San Francisco) SugarScience website, there are at least 61 names for sugar, including dextrose, fructose, glucose, sucrose and agave nectar. 

Adding to the confusion is the fact that producers aren't required to list added sugars separately from naturally occurring sugars, so it's hard to know how much sugar has been purposely added to something. 

Canadians eat far more than the daily recommended amount of sugar, according to Statistics Canada. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

According to Statistics Canada, Canadian children and adults consume up to 25 per cent of their total daily energy intake from total sugars. That's more than twice the 10 per cent recommended by the World Health Organization in its March 2015 guidelines for intake of free sugars (i.e. sugars not found naturally in fresh fruit or milk).

A host of health effects

We all know that eating too many sugar-laden foods could eventually lead to being overweight.

What many don't realize is the other ways sugar negatively impacts our health. Type 2 diabetes, liver disease, heart disease, kidney disease, gout, accelerated cell degeneration and increased risk of dementia are just some of the problems linked to excessive consumption of sugar.

In response, Health Canada has ordered changes in the way foods are labelled, requiring manufacturers to list all sugar-based ingredients under the title "sugars" in order to help consumers determine which sugars have been added to foods.

It will also require that a percentage daily value of sugar consumed be listed, so that we can compare the sugar content of different foods. 

Unfortunately, manufacturers have until 2022 to make this happen.

I'm all for making sugar a controlled substance, considering how much damage it does to our population.  According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, diabetes is a contributing factor in the deaths of 41,500 Canadians each year. 

Think about it.

So many of us are dying from a legal substance that is found literally everywhere. 

We don't just need to find out what food really tastes like without added sugar. We need to stop sugar-coating everything. 

Including the truth. 

This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Jo Davies

Freelance contributor

Jo Davies is a freelance writer who enjoys rocking the boat on the regular. She is working on a collection of short stories about dating in middle-age, a topic with which she is intimately acquainted.


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