JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Sugar--- some experts are calling it Public Enemy #1 and war is being waged to knock it out of your family's diet.
How far should you go?
Many people like to sip on sweet tea, sodas or other sugar-sweetened beverages throughout the day but Rose Hankins, owner/CEO of Twisted Foods in Jonesboro says over-consumption of those sugary drinks could lead to problems down the line.
"Sugar, whether we like to admit it or not, is a substance," Hankins said. "It's a substance abuse problem. If we all look at it, we're all addicted to sugar in some way."
Whether it's processed sugar or natural sugar, Hankins said it's all sugar at the end of the day, and it's still important to monitor your intake and how it's stored in your body.
"It increases fat cells," Hankins said. "It can mess with your cholesterol, and a lot of people's problem is inflammation or feeling bloated all the time."
Sugars aren't just in drinks, they can often be found in foods where people don't expect to find it, like sauces, salad dressings, and packaged salsas.
Rahwa Neguse used to be the queen of sugar but now she's cut out all processed sugars and switched to natural sweeteners.
"We use raw honey, organic honey, as well as dates," said Neguse who has a master's in global health sciences.
Her main reason for cutting out the sweet stuff?
She wants to set an example for her toddler daughter.
In the months since stopping all refined sugars, Neguse said she has more energy and feels better.
For those aiming to decrease or cut-out sugar-sweetened drinks, Hankins advises people to stick with it, despite how difficult it may be.
"Remember you're trying to be around for a long time and most people wait until it's too late," Hankins said. "They wait until they have really sad, disheartening news and then it becomes a journey, then a struggle, rather than a choice and you want it to be a choice to change. You want to feel better everyday, and if you want to feel better, all you have to do is try the lifestyle."
Gary Taubes, author of The Case Against Sugar, said sugar must go.
"What crime am I prosecuting sugar for?" he asked. "The answer is, we have epidemics of obesity and diabetes worldwide."
Research has linked sugar-sweetened beverages to everything from obesity to diabetes.
But the American Beverage Association disagrees, stating: "The CDC verifies obesity has been going up for years at the same time that soda consumption has been going down. "
Taubes said while consumption has come down, our bodies wouldn't respond that quickly.
When it comes to some leading health problems, he believes sugar remains a prime suspect.
"And what I'm saying is that sugar has unique physiological effects in the human body, independent of its caloric content," Taubes contends.
The sugar war was the main topic at the recent Better Food Movement conference in Miami where advocates, the food industry, educators, and consumers came together to share ideas on bringing better food into everyday life.
One of the speakers was Sara Soka, one of the main voices behind the nation's first soda tax in Berkeley, CA.
The tax passed in 2014 with 76% of the vote.
Soka says the tax is working as intended, as evidenced by a survey taken a few months after the vote.
"An evaluator went out and asked the question, 'Are you drinking less soda now? Are you drinking more water?' and found that people were drinking 20% less soda and other drinks like energy drinks; and they're drinking a lot more water, 60%," she said.
A comprehensive analysis just released finds that price increases led by taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages do lead to lower consumption.
The World Health Organization said taxes aren't a silver bullet, but they are an important tool.
The group recommends a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
Nutritionist, author and food politics expert Dr. Marion Nestle backs grassroots efforts but said legislation isn't the only way to enact change.
"Every time somebody buys a food, that person is voting with a fork for the kind of food system that they want," Nestle said. "Obviously, brand managers hear that. If people stop buying their products, they have to change their products, or they won't stay in business."
The American Beverage Association tells us it is offering more lower and no-calorie drinks for two reasons: "Response to consumer demand for more options with less sugar and as part of the industry's Balance Calories Initiative."
"I think, eventually, the world is moving in the right direction," said Dr. Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade College, a leading educator, and recipient of the Medal of Freedom.
Social responsibility and food are important to Dr. Padrón who said students are hungry for change.
"They are very, very much aware of the trends that are taking place today," he said. "They care, and they are willing to be advocates."
Neguse is an activist and spreads the word in her community that what we put in our mouth is directly related to our health.
"Let food be thy medicine," she said.
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