Home Life and Arts Food How sugar became the new smoking

How sugar became the new smoking

Photo by: Kaylin King | Staff Photographer
Students are possibly exceeding their recommended sugar intake without knowing it.

The early-to-mid-1900s was the era of Wonder Bread and inhaling just about as much cigarette smoke as oxygen.

No one realized smoking cigarettes was bad until we noticed lung cancer rates rose in the 1980s and peaked in the 1990s. Today, we look back on those times and call the people oblivious. But what if times have not changed only the source has?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 600,000 people a year.” The No. 1 thing putting people at risk of heart disease is their diets—specifically the immense about of sugar we put into our bodies everyday.

In many cases, the formulation of bad diets starts as soon as students move into their dorms and become responsible for their own meals. Mom isn’t going to make sure we are getting the five food groups into every meal, and let’s face, neither are we.

“The first thing students reach for is something that will give them a quick burst of energy,” said Arlene Cornejo, health promotion specialist for Healthy Cats. “It becomes a cyclical effect.”

Cornejo says foods students think are healthy may actually contain a lot of sugar.

“Just because something says it’s organic doesn’t mean it doesn’t have sugar,” Cornejo said. “When you look at the back of the label on packaged food like granola bars or even some pre-made smoothies, you see they are actually loaded with sugar.”

Processed sugar, like the fructose commonly found in soft drinks, doesn’t have the nutritional value of natural sugar found in foods like carrots. Carrots still have sugar, but also fiber and carbohydrates to give students energy.

“If you eat an apple compared to drinking a soda, it will react in your body differently,” said Jayme Bisbano, nutrition senior. “A rule of thumb is if it grows from the earth you are going to benefit from it.”

Bisbano said eating healthy doesn’t have to be a struggle.

“The No. 1 thing is to keep it simple,” Bisbano said. “I love to cook and you don’t have to buy quinoa or kale and spend a ton of money to eat healthy.”

The thought of abandoning ice cream for kale is as scary as finals week, but moderation makes the lifestyle change permanent. Randal Baccus, finance junior, said after his eating transformation over the past year he lost more than 60 pounds.

“I cut loads of sugar and processed foods out of my diet recently, mainly fast food and ice cream, and weight loss just seemed to follow suit,” Baccus said. “I cook most of my meals, so I try to use as little sugar as possible. Portion control is key and eating a pint of ice cream before bed is never a good idea for a snack.”

People cannot deny processed sugar is a quiet killer. Like smoking, it only damages our bodies and provides no health benefits.

Don’t let the recognition from a Fitbit for walking up the Albert B. Alkek stairs fool you. Students might be in shape, but they won’t be healthy until sugar intake is reduced.


  1. First, food, not beverages is actually the top source of sugars in the average American diet, according to CDC data. To further put this discussion in perspective, soda contributes a mere 4% of calories in the American diet, and all sugar-sweetened beverages combined attribute just 6%.

    Second, demonizing sugar as a standalone cause of complex health conditions is overly simplistic, and not rooted in the body of science. For instance, consider the fact that as obesity rates have climbed over the past four decades, the lions’ share (84%) of additional calories in the average American’s diet comes from fats, oils and starches. The same USDA data shows that sugar, from all sources, plays a relatively minor role contributing just 9%. Calories from soft drinks played an even smaller role in this increase.

    How do we encourage healthier lifestyles? By supporting education-based efforts that teach people how to balance all calories with physical activity, such as our industry’s Balance Calories Initiative. The fact is a healthy balance can certainly include sugars, and sugar-sweetened beverages for that matter, which as this New York Times article explains, are not the pariah some would claim: http://nyti.ms/10ntOrz.

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