Is America Too Sweet On Sugar?

Hershey's candy bars are shown at a New York news stand Friday, April 22, 2005. The newly renamed Hershey Co., the nation's largest candy maker, on Thursday said first-quarter profits rose 10.3 percent on the strength of several new products and last year's purchase of a Mexican candy maker and a Hawaiian macadamia nut processor. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) AP

The theme park in Hershey, Penn., is the storied home to Hershey's chocolate. This year it is celebrating 100 years of Hershey kisses.

It's a sugar lover's paradise. Who could have a problem with that?

Well, a lot of people, because the goodies of Hershey Park are meant to be a treat, not a major food group. What worries health care professionals is that when it comes to eating sugar, Hershey could be Anytown, USA.

Dr. David Ludwig treats childhood obesity at Boston Children's Hospital and he is stunned by America's consumption of empty calories. In fact, he says that the average convenience store is a nutritional disaster area.

"All sugar-containing foods aren't bad," he told CBS News correspondent Susan Spencer. "For example, an apple has its main calories come from sugar. But it's surrounded by fiber, so it digests slowly and keeps blood sugar under control."

Including refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, the average American wolfs down 142 pounds a year, or roughly 2 ½ pound a week. That is up 23 percent in the last 25 years, and is a major factor in soaring rates of obesity and diabetes.

"The problem is when we take sugars and concentrate and refine them, and serve them in massive amounts throughout the food supply," Ludwig said. "That's causing hormonal changes that in many people drive hunger, cause overeating, and increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease."

And it isn't just sugar driving those highs and lows — so do the carbohydrates found in highly-processed food, like white bread and white rice, which turn to glucose when eaten.

"A bagel and a bowl of sugar may taste different, but to the body they're virtually the same thing," he said. "A bagel would do the same thing to blood sugar hormones and hunger several hours after eating it."

Eating half a cup of sugar might well send anyone into sugar shock, says author Connie Bennett. The author of "Susar Shock!" claims sugar just about ruined her life.

"I was socked in by brain fog," she said. "I would have these horrible migraine headaches."

All seemed lost until her doctor diagnosed low blood sugar — hypoglycemia — and told her to lay off the sweets.

"I remember all of a sudden, after three days, I was like, 'Wow! I feel so good,'" she said. "It was as if the fog lifted, and then, after a few weeks, all my ailments disappeared."

Anti-sugar messages may be sinking in. This week Kellogg's said it will no longer advertise a product to kids unless it meets certain nutritional guidelines. Froot Loops for example, have too much sugar to qualify, but Frosted Flakes make Kellogg's cut.

And on another front, Alameda County, Calif., last week declared a "soda-free summer initiative."

"We hope to enlist 60,000 Alameda County children to forswear sugar for the summer," Bennett said.

But sodas and Froot Loops aren't the whole problem. Sugar — usually as high fructose corn syrup — lies in wait on every grocery shelf. Spaghetti sauce, salad dressing, peanut butter, mayonnaise and ketchup all have it.

Nutrition labels can be deceiving. Sugar content always is listed in grams, but few people know there are 4 grams in a teaspoon and, unlike the listings for salt and fats, there's not a clue as to how many grams of sugar is too many. The Agriculture Department recommends no more than 12 teaspoons a day; that is roughly one 12-ounce soda and a slice of bread.

But spokesperson Melanie Miller of the American Sugar Association points out there is no scientific consensus on how much sugar is too much. Besides, she says, overeating and not exercising is America's real problem, not sugar, which can be an essential ingredient.

"Sometimes we need sugar to make it rise, or make it crisp, or to give it texture," she said. "Another part of that is that the American palate likes sweet things, and manufacturers have recognized that in Europe, they don't use as much sugar."

  • Caitlin Johnson

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