Canadians eat an astounding 88 pounds of sugar per year—it’s about one in every five calories we consume. The average teenage boy gets 138 pounds per year, and the primary source is soft drinks. A growing number of doctors and experts say this cherished ingredient could be making us sick. We’re hard-wired from birth to seek out the sweet taste of sugar, something the food and drink industry understands all too well; they’ve packed more and more of it into our food. (“Low fat” options are sometimes the most sugar-laden of all.) If these experts are right, sugar could be spurring on not only the obesity epidemic, but other plagues of modern society: Heart disease. Diabetes. Even Alzheimer’s.
The World Health Organization says sugar should make up less than 10 per cent, ideally less than 5 per cent, of the calories we consume. (That would be tough for the average Canadian, who almost reaches the 10 per cent limit with one can of soda.) Despite mounting evidence, Health Canada has yet to issue clear guidelines on how much sugar we should consume; as a result, the Nutrition Fact box on packaged foods has a troublingly vacant space. That label tells us how many grams of sugar is in whatever we’re about to eat our drink, but not what it represents of our daily recommended intake. A number of experts and organizations, including the Childhood Obesity Foundation, say that’s got to change.
In this week’s Big Read, Maclean’s writer Kate Lunau looks at how we got hooked on sugar—and the steep price we may be paying.