Monday, 14 May 2012

Sly Sugar: Is it a treat or is it an everyday food?

Growing up my favorite after dinner treat was a Root Beer Float. Thinking of it right now I can taste the foamy rootbeer soaked vanilla ice cream and hear the clink of the spoon against the glass as I scooped out the last dredges of ice cream. That being said I had a float maybe a few times a year, it was considered a treat. In high school I remember being jealous of the kids who brought cash to school everyday to spend in the vending machines. Their lunches consisted of a can of soft drink and a chocolate eclair from the cafeteria. Wow treats every day! Looking back on it now they probably didn't feel so hot by the time 3pm rolled around when their bodies crashed from the sugar-high. But the green-eyed monster doesn't notice these things.

So what foods do we consider treats? Should I even be using that word? Have foods that I once considered treats become a daily part of our diet?  For Canadians 35% of our daily sugar intake is coming from so-called Other Foods, which accounts to 7% of our daily calories. Other foods are nutrient-poor foods that don't fall under a food group, such as soft drinks, candy, fruit drinks, and chocolate bars. I am loath to even call them foods, but that is a whole other can of worms.
Enough with the numbers. Below are some pictures to illustrate our intake of sugar from these nutrient poor foods. *Rather than buying 65 pounds of sugar to illustrate my point, I used a 2kg (4.4 pound) bag of sugar and did some photo multiplication. If you have suggestions as to a better way to illustrate that much sugar - I'm all ears, as I'm not entirely satisfied with the end result of my attempt.

Average Canadian's sugar intake from Other Foods such as, soft drinks, candies, chocolate bars, fruit drinks, and added sugar and syrups is around 7.6 tsp per day for a total of 13.9 kg/ year (30.6 pounds). The picture is of 2 kg (4.4 pounds) bags of sugar.

Topping out the charts are those teenage boys aged 14-18 years old who consume 16 teaspoons of sugar from Other Foods per day, resulting in 28.8 kg per year (63.5 pounds).

For the little ones aged 1-3 years. 3.3 teaspoons per day from Other Foods for a total of 6 kg per year (13.2 pounds).

Other Foods for the preschooler and elementary-aged children 4-8 years provides 6.5 teaspoons per day, which equals 11.8 kg/year (26 pounds).

If you are interested in seeing more of the numbers and percentages, my data is from Statistics Canada.

Unfortunately the way they present the data, it is difficult to provide an accurate quantity of sugar per day from specific food sources per sex and age group, such as soft drinks. They do list the top food sources of sugar. For children ages 1-8 years old it is milk. Can you guess what it is for the 9-18 years old? Soft Drinks. Which says to me that they are drinking soft drinks everyday and getting more sugar from soft drinks than fruit. I guess soft drinks aren't considered as treats anymore.

How often do you eat foods that you consider treats? Daily, weekly, monthly? Should I be even using the word treat to describe these foods?


  1. Nice pics! But it's not just added fructose and sucrose (table sugar, half fructose, half glucose) in "sweet treats" that we need to worry about. A great deal of the sugar in our diet actually comes from wheat and wheat products. A slice of bread actually has a higher glycemic index (i.e. more of an impact on blood sugar and blood insulin levels) than an equivalent amount of table sugar. (Stone ground whole grain or wonderbread - doesn't make much difference). Lots of profits to be made by food manufacturers in selling products made from sugar and/or wheat....

    1. Thanks for the comment Mrs.P! You make a good point about the profit margin food manufacturers make, which is why we are hoping to move towards more whole foods. For us baby steps and prioritization here. Right now I'd rather my little ones eat a slice of whole wheat bread with the related nutrients (B-vitamins, magnesium, selenium, potassium, calcium, fibre etc.)then drink a cup of fruit drink. The glycemic index is a very useful tool for weight loss/maintenance, diabetes management and insulin sensitivity but it isn't the only tool I'll be using to evaluate the foods we are choosing to eat.

  2. you might be interested in a book that I've recently read, Wheat Belly by Dr. Davis, an American cardiologist. He argues that not only does wheat have a very high glycemic index, but in the last 100 years it has been significantly genetically modified (I.e. For higher yields and ease of harvesting), which he theorizes has also changed the gluten protein, making it more likely to trigger gut inflammation in susceptible people. He also talks about the addictive properties of the gliadins in wheat, which can stimulate overeating. He tells his patients to stop eating wheat in any form, and instead to eat more vegetables and healthy fats. Obviously, anyone seeing a cardiologist has significant health issues; certainly there are many healthy people who have no problem eating wheat products. But anyone who is struggling with excess belly fat (such as myself) probably has hyperinsulinemia and would benefit from cutting down on wheat and grain consumption....

    1. Thanks for the comment! I have heard of the book and read a couple of reviews on Amazon. I'll have to check it out of my library and give it a read. I am planning on writing up a post on wheat and gluten but need to read more before I put my opinion out there. I am also planning one on insulin metabolism but again feel the need to prepare myself more. It is definitely a hot topic right now and wouldn't be so if people haven't been experiencing benefits from changing their diets. I am assuming you have found it helpful for yourself?

  3. An interesting video on sugar is "Sugar: the bitter truth." It was available on YouTube last time I checked.