I’m trying to eat less sugar, but it’s not easy. I keep sabotaging myself. Not just with surreptitious cookie consumption, but also with my pet name for my husband, the wildly imaginative “sweetie.” Here’s my unproven, unscientific, but kind-of-intriguing theory: our biggest diet downfall is hiding in plain sight.
First, though, let me back up and begin by mentioning our staggering degree of sugar consumption. According to the US Department of Agriculture, we should be limiting ourselves to a 2,000-calorie healthy diet and 10 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Needless to say, we’re not. In fact, the average American consumes twice as much added sugar.
Teenaged boys? Try four times as much.
Part of the problem is the food itself, of course. Sugar doesn’t just lurk in the obvious places like candy, soda, and Cinnabons. It can also be found in the tomato sauce we put on our pasta, yogurt, salad dressing, and more. Barbecue sauce? You might as well pour maple syrup on your spareribs – in fact, the maple syrup has less sugar.
Another culprit is “fat-free” food. Fat makes food taste good, so once it’s taken out, manufacturers are often left with crackers and cereal that taste like Styrofoam packing peanuts. What to do? Why, add lots of sugar, of course!
But on to my theory: our language is increasing our sugar-eating habits. What are our most common terms for a special someone – child, spouse, pet? “Honey,” “sugar,” and the aforementioned “sweetie.” We automatically equate sweetness with goodness. Sweet means “little.” Sweet means “nonthreatening.” Sweet means “cute.”
Ironic, isn’t it? I mean, obesity’s not little, diabetes isn’t nonthreatening, and heart disease is anything but cute.
I wondered if my theory would hold up in other countries, so I decided to embark on an international research study (aka: “asked a few of my Facebook friends from other parts of the world.”) In Italy, Bulgaria, and the UK, the most common terms of endearment are also sweet-related. France is the outlier – its terms of endearment include “bijou” (jewel), “lapin” (rabbit or bunny), and my favorite, “chou” (cabbage.) Can you imagine one American calling another “my little cabbage?” Sacre bleu!
On doing a little more digging, I discovered that our terms of endearment are just the tip of the iceberg. Song titles are rife with references to sweetness: “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Sweet Baby James,” “Sweet Dreams,” “My Sweet Lord,” “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” “Sweet Emotion,” and the like.
This isn’t even a modern phenomenon. “Sweet Georgia Brown,” anyone?
Books, movies, television – there’s sugar everywhere, if you pay attention. In romantic matters, we say we’re sweet on someone. We whisper sweet nothings in our sweetheart’s ear. In business meetings, it’s much appreciated if presenters keep things short and sweet. Reluctant customer? Sweet-talk them. After all, you catch more flies with honey, right? Delivering difficult news? Just remember, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
All this leaves us in a difficult spot. Our sugar consumption is going up, and our language is lousy with references to sweetness.
We can’t make wholesale changes, but perhaps we can start with small ones.
For me, that’s meant changing the chocolate I eat. Notice that I say “changing,” not “stopping.” Giving up chocolate is not an option, of course. After a bit of (highly enjoyable) searching, I wound up finding some at my local Whole Foods that has only 8g of sugar per serving. It’s free-range chocolate from raw cacao beans or something.
Now, as for my theory: I wonder if my husband will look at me funny if I start calling him “my little cabbage?”