American Foodways: Is sugar in EVERYTHING?

USDA report on US food consumption

Click on this image from the USDA to download a PDF of the report on food consumption in the U.S. over a 35-year period.

For the past 30 days, I conducted a personal experiment: I eliminated all sugar from my diet, except sugar that occurs naturally in fruit. Eliminating all sugar proved to be much harder than I expected, but not because I lacked the will to avoid sugar. Rather, I learned that sugar is in so many products on the supermarket shelves that I had to radically change my diet to avoid it.

Is sugar in everything?

Case in point: My son is allergic to peanuts so we don’t have the legume or the butter made from it in our home. Instead, we eat nut and seed butters. Our local supermarket features 20 kinds of butter—different nuts, different seeds—creamy or crunchy. Every single one has added sugar. Only in a specialty store did I find a seed butter that was, well, only seeds. No sugar at all.

How about ketchup? Sugar in all varieties in the supermarket. The specialty store carried one item without added sugar.

Eliminating sugar meant I could skip entire aisles in the supermarket. Generally, only the aisles around the store’s perimeter offered foods without added sugar (vegetables and fruits, meats, fish, chicken, diary, etc.)

All this got me wondering: If sugar is added to so many foods, what’s happened to our food habits?

Americans are consuming more sugars in 2005 than in 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, the consumption of refined cane and beet sugars actually has decreased. During the same time, the availability and consumption of corn sweeteners has skyrocketed: a 387% per capita increase. High-fructose corn syrup is the main sugar additive that accounts for the increase. And, the biggest user of high-fructose corn syrup is the soft drink industry. Why? Because it’s cheaper than other sugars.

I don’t drink soda, so I didn’t have to eliminate this source of sugar from my diet. Nonetheless, my sugar-free regime taught me that sugar isn’t in everything—just almost everything.

Want the skinny on sugar? This Harvard report might help.

Has your sugar consumption increased over time?
Do you regulate your sugar intake?

Start a conversation …

That’s the purpose of the OurValues project. We encourage civil discussion on important topics of the day. You are free to print out, repost and share these columns with friends. You can use them in your small group or class. Enjoy this week’s series!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Series Navigation<< American Foodways—Try a Quiz? Ever bribe someone for a table at a restaurant?American Foodways: Is the soft drink industry ‘schizophrenic’? >>


  1. Duncan Newcomer says

    My wife and I “did” The Whole30 eating plan. That meant no sugar as well as grains and dairy and legumes. Our mood and weight has significantly changed. Reading labels for the sugar astounded us! Sugar is the enemy within!