Should Sugar Be Regulated?

Have you heard about the latest proposal from Mayor Bloomberg?

sugar cubes stacked in front of soda cups[source]

In an effort to combat obesity, the mayor has proposed a ban on the sale of sugary drinks that are over 16 ounces in size. This proposal would apply to regular soft drinks, sweetened energy drinks and pre-sweetened bottles of tea, but would not include fruit juices, diet sodas or any dairy-based drinks (including milkshakes).

Not surprisingly, this is a rather controversial topic.

In fact, it was recently discussed by a panel on Fox News–> a panel which included my mentor, clinical nutritionist Natalia Rose. It’s a great clip to watch, if you have 10 minutes to spare:

Fox news[source <– click here to watch!]

This proposal is obviously opposed by the soda industry, which feels that soda has been unfairly singled-out as the culprit behind the obesity epidemic. (Though, just 1 can of soda a day does equal 50 lbs of sugar in a year!)

The plan has also been criticized as an attempt at unnecessary regulation, with critics arguing that we should let people decide for themselves how much soda is too much. Of course, nothing in this proposal is stopping you from buying two 16-ounce drinks, if you’d like to!

So, the question stands–> Is sugar too addictive to be truly be eaten in moderation? Is education enough, or is regulation necessary?

Since we already regulate other addictive substances– like tobacco and alcohol– how is sugar any different?

According to Dr. Robert Lustig,

“We have not had any success with educational efforts alone. All of our success with any one of those substances of abuse have come through regulation. We’re proposing that sugar be looked at in the same vein.” [source]

When it comes to high-fructose corn syrup and refined sugars, I couldn’t agree more.

Personally, I think added sugars are toxic and that, as a society, we’d benefit from some regulation. Sugar is hidden in everything!

poster on the amount of sugar in soda[source]

Note: The average-sized women should be consuming no more than 6.25 teaspoons of sugar each day; for men it’s no more than 9.4 teaspoons. [source] (For reference 4 grams sugar = 1 teaspoon.)

One 16-ounce soft-drink contains nearly 13 teaspoons of sugar–> more than double the recommended daily amount in just one drink!

Mayor Bloomberg’s other radical regulations include banning smoking in restaurants and parks, and prohibiting trans-fat in restaurant food–> both of which have influenced many other cities to follow suit! I must admit, I’m a fan of both of those regulations as well.

Really, I’m a fan of banning any substance that is proven to be harmful to human health. Would we be okay with consuming arsenic in moderation?

*Apparently many of us are okay with that… studies have shown that the final Splenda product contains small amounts of heavy metals (like lead) and arsenic (rat poison). [source] So, think twice before you decide how to sweeten your next tea or coffee!

Edited to add: I realize that government regulation is a tricky subject, as it could start a domino effect of other regulations, but what I like about this particular idea is that it is NOT proposing a ban on sodas, or even on refined sugar, for that matter. It’s only making us reevaluate our concept of portion-control when it comes to this addictive substance. We’ve already lost our right to buying truly raw almonds and many raw dairy products in our US grocery stores, which many would argue are actually “health promoting” products, but refined sugars and chemicals, which have been proven to cause us harm, seem to be surprisingly unregulated. Obviously there has to be some sort of regulation in our food supply, to hold manufacturers accountable to certain health standards, so I guess it’s just a matter of where we draw the line!


Reader Feedback: What do you think? Should sugar be regulated? Do you think it’s as addictive or habit-forming as tobacco or alcohol? Personally, I think it’s almost worse, because unlike an alcohol or tobacco, we are confronted with sugary options daily! Plus, it’s socially acceptable to be addicted to sweets, and friends or co-workers may assume you’re “too restrictive” if you turn them down!

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Comments

LizAshlee

I definitely think should is as addictive as tobacco or alcohol. At an IIN conference, Julia Ross (Food and Mood) was relating its level of addiction to that of cocaine..yikes!

Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat

Oooh yes, the great debate! I think sugar could definitely do with some regulation. Not just limiting it to soft drinks, but all foods in general that are loaded with sugar. I think people would be shocked to see how many seemingly ‘healthy’ products disappear from the grocery store shelves!

    Megan

    Yes, soda size seems to be a very small step in the grand scheme of things. I think it would be quite a shock to reveal just how many “healthy” foods are loaded with sugar, too!

Jen

I just found your blog a week or two ago and love it! While I personally choose to not drink soda and am all for regulating it in schools, I think this proposal is a little crazy. I think we need to get to the root of the problem and stop subsidizing high fructose corn syrup. If awful food wasn’t so “cheap” people wouldn’t consume it quite as much. There are so many government run subsidies that encourage companies to use crappy, cheap, unhealthy food. It is not an equal playing field for our fresh, natural produce. I also feel like stopping the selling of that in a restaurant isn’t going to stop folks that drink a lot of soda, they are just going to do it at home. Besides, is one large soda REALLY worse than a huge ice cream sundae or a double-quarter pounder with cheese for our health? I’m not so sure. Jon Stewart did a great segment on this as well last week. I’m super all about healthy options, programs and regulations, but I think it needs to be done in a positive light and providing more options/programs instead of restricting people to things. Just my thoughts! Thanks for your blog and all you do for people’s health! I have already shared your recipes with several of my boot camp clients!

    Megan

    I saw the Jon Stewart segment, too! I think the soda thing may have very little impact on the overall obesity problem, but I do like that it’s starting a discussion– and if nothing else, it may force people to think about going back for a second helping, rather than mindlessly drinking 32-64 ounces of sugar.

    If we could do something about government subsidies, that would obviously have a much greater impact! I read somewhere that there aren’t even enough fruits and vegetables produced in our country for everyone to eat them if we wanted to.

    Glad you’re enjoying the recipes, and thanks for adding to the discussion! ๐Ÿ™‚

Emily

I agree that sugar should be regulated, as eating things like muffins for breakfast (alongside a latte which may have syrup in it) is also considered de rigueur, bringing daily sugar consumption way up before people have barely woken up and presumably before they drink any soda.

Ultimately, I think the media, education & government are all failing people (worldwide) in not talking more accurately about nutrition and health. If people were more educated then I’d maybe give more leeway to personal choice, but no doubt we’d then have to consider influence of advertising & corporations influence on government. The UK government reportedly has McDonalds, KFC, PepsiCo & others contributing to government policy on obesity and diet-related disease.

    Megan

    I couldn’t agree more– I would be all for more choices if our society wasn’t so manipulated by misleading information. It’s shocking how much influence large corporations and other interests have in policy making, when it’s clear that public health isn’t their first priority.

    And you bring up a good point about the average breakfast! Many people probably consume a day’s worth of sugar before noon. ๐Ÿ™

Myssi

I can see where you’re coming from but I think it is a scary slippery slope to start down. The government believing they have the power to regulate this kind of thing just scares me as to where it will stop. I truly believe our freedoms in this country are being slowly eroded away and even if the idea behind limiting soda is good I do not agree with the government stepping in and taking that kind of control over people’s lives.

Myssi

I had also wanted to say that I think you’re blog is great and is a wonderful tool for educating people about food and it’s role in our health. I think a much better solution is for all of us as individuals to help society change their way of thinking and influence each other to make better food choices not have the government step in and take control.

    Megan

    I can totally see where you’re coming from, too! I honestly don’t know if government regulation is the right way to go, and if we do go that route, what it may lead to. Really, I’d prefer they focus their regulations on manufacturers (as the FDA already does to an extent), limiting the amount of added sugars allowed in food and drinks across the board. I think limiting the size of sodas is just one small way to remind people to think twice before mindlessly consuming copious amounts of sugar, and potentially ruining their health.

    And thank you for the kind words. I do hope that by educating, providing healthy, tasty options and demonstrating that a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to feel restrictive or boring, that we can gradually bring about some change!

Rebecca

Personally, I don’t drink any kind of soda and eat very little sugar in my diet. And I do agree that soda and sugar are very harmful to the body. BUT I completely disagree that the government should have any regulation on what a person can and cannot eat or drink. As the question does go, where does that stop? And who makes the decisions on what is good and bad? Not that long ago, salt was the issue. Being someone with very low blood pressure, my doctor gave me the option to start adding lots of salt or take medication. Of course I chose salt. But this is where the governing gets scary, what is good for one person may be harmful to another. You can’t have tunnel vision and say because its bad for the majority, it’s bad for everyone. Honestly, I can see the benefit to both sides of the sugar debate. But personally, I don’t want government having that much control over my day to day life ๐Ÿ˜‰ Good topic to bring up, thanks!

Julie (A Case of the Runs)

I agree with Rebecca… just yesterday in CA (where you are, I think), we voted on a cigarette tax for cancer research. I am against this not for cancer research but because it singles out and demonizes a population to fund something that they KNOW is not good but can’t seem to avoid. I would have felt better about it if the tax went toward balancing the state budget or something (like how we are charged fees for things that go toward infrastructure, etc.

So when it comes to sugar, which doesn’t harm others (like smoking and illicit drugs), I do NOT want it to be regulated unless it suddenly became really scarce. We can choose to avoid it, educate others about it, but to impose on other people is righteous in the same way as that cigarette tax. Over time, I feel that consumers will smarten up and the market will regulate the use of things like HFCS and such.

sophie

only one thing to say: this is just one more thing the government is trying to control us with. WAKE UP PEOPLE! THAT’S ALL THIS IS ABOUT! CONTROL!

Mercedes

Ultimately I find it really problematic to try and seek solutions at the individual level when the problems are inherently structural, and all about power and the current political economic order. Unfortunately, because those issues are SO oppressive and seemingly impermeable to (quick) change, we end up with many attempts to regulate individual behavior. It’s such a thorny issue, which I have thought deeply about all sides of. And I still don’t have a clear answer. I think the biggest “predictor” of poor health status (“obesity” in this case) is poverty – that, to me, seems to be such a more pressing social issue than all the focus on demonizing people’s individual choices – when the environment first and foremost dictates and delimits those choices! Sigh. We live in a very weird world.

Robyn

I just find this so exhausting and disappointing that with all the info out there(everywhere!),,,that people still do not get it!! People should be able to regulate them selves and quit over doing everything in life…there will always be people out there that choose to educate themselves and control their own lives/health and others that are just not interested whether they have less sugar in their pop/doughnut or what have you…And yes it has been certain government areas, big companies, pharmacutical,WHO, and all the rest that have the control in messing with our foods, and they should be held accountable….it’s all education and choices in the mean time,,,cause change is very slow,,,I choose to forgo all sugars and avoid health harmful foods.

Nickolas

We need less regulation not more. We need more education the right kind so people can think for themselves. It disgust me people try to force their lifestyles and beliefs on others. All substances need to be available so people can be free and choose for themselves what they will and will not put in their bodies. We should be more concerned with what we do not have control of that ends up in our bodies like radiation, lead, genetically modified organisms, mercury, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and hormones.

    carrie

    I agree with Nikolas and the other posts that are anti-government regulation. I’m pro-labeling. I have no problem with the government regulating corporations as far as disclosure is concerned- as long as they aren’t regulating our choices. If they have too many powers like this now, what would stop the government from limiting our healthy food intake someday (rationing).

    As much as I believe soda/sugary drinks are a disgusting and damaging substance, I don’t believe the government should be deciding how much a person can have. It’d be great to see a sugar packet symbol on all processed products with the number of sugar packets per serving displayed on it AND the number of servings in the package clearly displayed on the front as well.

Lisa

Oh man. This is a great debate! Personally, I don’t really agree on the ban, because its sort of like alcohol taxes, people will still pay higher prices to get their alcohol in. I guess it may make a difference with a few people. But I’ve heard people being interviewed that instead of buying the huge sodas they will just buy two of the large to equal the extra large amount that is no longer served. Its a huge concern because tons of sugar is horrible for your health, but I guess in the end people will do what they want to do with their food and health. I think most people could definitely use a course on how much sugar they are getting from their low fat foods that they think are healthy ๐Ÿ˜‰ and just sugar intake in general.

Sara

It’s interesting to me that everyone is talking about the government “taking” control of our choices… I find it interesting because if you follow how things are marketed and information is passed along to the public it is in the governments control already… There was actually a movement not that long ago with a health conscious group wanting to just make manufactures be honest about what is in their food and the actual healthiness of it. The government pretty much shut it down… If I can find the specifics I will pass it along. It stunned me. Just trying to get manufacturers to be honest and the government gets so much money from the manufactures that it hurts the public. JMHO ~Sara

Ashley

I agree with the people talking about government control. Of course people eat too much sugar, that’s obvious, but I don’t think the government should have a say. How about banning HFCS, GMO’S? What about not making garbage so much cheaper and easier to buy? I’m sure I would be shocked by the average person’s sugar consumption, and diet for that matter, but I don’t know because that’s not how we eat in our house. But what type of sugar are we discussing here? Because personally I do not believe fruit should be treated the same as soda or any other sugary beverage or food. And I do enjoy detoxinista’s desserts. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Megan

    Hi Ashley! I agree with you that more government regulation could potentially lead us down a dangerous road… especially considering that they’ve already started doing this– like banning raw almonds and many raw dairy products in our US grocery stores (items that many people would consider “healthy!”)

    In this soda instance, they are not proposing a ban on sugar– they are simply promoting portion control, which I appreciate. Many of us automatically buy a larger size soda, simply because it’s a better value! This ban seems more like a luxury tax, or maybe a “junk food” tax, since it’s only making a consumer buy an additional drink if they want more than 16 ounces of soda.

    I’m still torn on the subject, since I don’t like the idea that the government could decide something that we consider “healthy” should be banned (like raw spinach with e.coli?) in the future, so it’s just a tricky slope. Definitely a lot to consider!

Michelle

I just found your site as I am doing an intense candida cleanse…oh thank you, thank you! Ok…referring to sugar regulation. I totally agree that sugar is like poison. Now, I am looking at the maple syrup substitutes, raw honey, and I am wondering should those be regulated, too? Eaten like twice a week? I was off of sugar for 2 months and switched over to agave nectar. I felt so good without the sugar, and when I switched over to a.n. I didn’t feel nearly as good. So, how should we regulate the better sweeteners?

Michelle

Also, after doing the candida cleanse, when can I re-introduce some of these treats that you have on your blog?

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