Sugar – The Root Of All (Nutritional) Evil

I imagine that no one reading this is going to be shocked at the basic message of this nutrition article – sugar is unhealthy for you. Hopefully, some of the facts and numbers that are shared will illustrate just how poor our eating habits in the United States are today.

A brief history of sugar
Believe it or not sugar is not mentioned in the Bible. Honey, yes, but not sugar. White sugar, sucrose, did not exist until 500 A.D. Refined sugar use has sky rocketed during the past two hundred years. In 1828 the average American consumed only twelve pounds of sugar. In 1875 the steel roller mill was invented (1). This allowed us to grind down flour into an extremely fine white powder, giving us white flour. With the creation non-nutritious white flour for cakes, pies, and sweet baked goods, sugar consumption increased. The 1890s led to the creation of soda, sweet sugary drinks to quench one’s thirst. The junk food industry was born during the last 25 years of the 19th century!

The sins of the past affect the future
How did this impact the American diet? One hundred fifty years later, in 1975, the average American consumed 124 pounds of sugar per year. Over the past 30 years these numbers have continued to climb at an alarming rate. In 1994 we consumed 149 pounds of sugar in our foods and beverages per year. As recently as 1999 that number climbed to 158 pounds (2). Let that number settle in for a moment -- 158 pounds -- that means many of us are eating our body weight in pure sugar each year!

The devil is in the details
The next time you are in the supermarket take a look at the nutrition label. Read off the list of ingredients on your favorite bread, cereal, peanut butter, yogurt, and snacks. Look where sugar or any other added sweeteners fall on the list – you will be surprised. One of the biggest added sweeteners is high fructose corn syrup. If the words sugar, fructose, or high fructose corn syrup appear in the first few ingredients on the nutrition label, think about the nutritional quality of what you are putting in your body. Cheerios has sugar as its third ingredient. Life cereal has sugar as its second ingredient. Both of these cereals are supposed to be healthy breakfast cereals. This is why I don’t have any of my athletes start their morning with a bowl full of cold cereal. Contrast this with the ingredients in Quaker Old Fashioned Oats, which contains no sugar. In fact, it only has one ingredient, whole grain rolled oats. The benefits of whole oats oatmeal come through again.

Five sweet facts to finish

Fact #1 = The average American gets 20% of his or her calories from sugar (3). Forget about cutting carbs – cut out the sugar!

Fact #2 = Since 1983 the average teenage male has consumed 25 to 30% of his daily calories from sugar (3). The average yearly intake is 110 pounds of sugar!

Fact #3 = One third of all calories derived from carbohydrates in the American diet comes from sweeteners like sugar and high fructose corn syrup (4).

Fact #4 = Obesity has risen more in the past ten years (1995 to 2004) then the past 40 years combined (1).

Fact #5 = In 2001 the major fast food companies spent a combined 3.5 billion dollars in advertising to the public. That same year the total budget for the FDA was 1.3 billion dollars! Think about that as you watch all those ads on television and wonder where are the ads for promoting fruits and vegetables (5).

Think about these facts and digest this article on nutrition. This is just one more small step on the road to building a solid nutritional foundation.


1. Steward, H.L, Bethea, M.C., MD, Andrews, S.S., MD, & Balart, L.A., MD. (2003). The New Sugar Busters! Cut Sugar To Trim Fat. New York: Ballantine Publishing Group.

2. Johnson, R.K., & Frary, Carol. (2001). Choose beverages and foods to moderate your intake of sugars: The 2000 dietary guidelines for Americans – What’s all the fuss about? Journal of Nutrition 131, pp. 2766S-2771S.

3. Sibbald, B. (June 10, 2003). Sugar Industry Sour on WHO Report. CMAL 168 (12), pp. 1585.

4. Bray, G.A., Nielsen, S.J., & Popkin, B.M. (2004). Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 79, pp. 537-543.

5. Welch, G., PhD. (February 2003). Spending in the U.S. on Advertising for Fast Foods, Sodas, and Automobiles. Diabetes Care 26 (2), pp. 546.

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