Early one Saturday, I headed to a "sugar detox" seminar at my gym. I didn't expect it to be a hot ticket, but when I opened the classroom door every seat was taken.
One was filled by "Grandma Teresa," as she introduced herself, who had brought along her two granddaughters, ages 11 and 13, because "sugar is really bad and I want them to learn as much as they can when they are still young." The other participants, all women from their 30s to 70s, said they wanted to curb their sugar intake for a variety of reasons — to ease a health struggle; to lose weight; or to reduce their risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and dementia.
I was there on doctor's orders. He had advised a sugar detox for me to lose visceral fat — the internal kind that accumulates around the organs and drives hunger, overeating, weight gain, muscle loss and brain damage.
It can also cause fatty liver disease, increase the cholesterol that causes heart disease and increase inflammation, which Mark Hyman, the medical director of the Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine, said "affects a whole range of diseases from cancer to heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer's."
For instance, a recent study found that consuming sugary drinks, including soda and fruit juice, may "significantly" increase your risk of developing cancer, especially of the breast.
Health coach Anna Seethaler opened the detox seminar with three questions: How much sugar are you eating? When are you eating it? And why are you eating it?
My answers mirrored those of my classmates: No clue. All day long, especially in the evening (or any time I felt lonely, angry or deserving of a treat). And because I like it. I learned that the average American consumes nearly 152 pounds of sugar annually, or nearly 44 teaspoons a day. The typical kid in the United States eats a horrifying 34 teaspoons daily. (The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons a day for women and children, nine for men.)