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The New York Times Magazine feature on sugar this past Sunday has a lot of people talking. Writer Gary Taubes’s assertion that sugar is toxic has led to a lot of sniping on both sides of the issue.

Building on the theories of childhood obesity expert Robert Lustig, Taubes launched a vicious assault on sugar. And should we believe his algebraic conclusions, the basic staple we know and love should now be seen as the root of all nutritional evil.

According to Taubes, health professionals and scientists are aware that sugar plays havoc with the body’s insulin levels and that insulin plays a major part in speeding up cancer and tumor growth. But no one, except Lustig perhaps, has until now proposed that sugar actually causes cancer.

Author and nutritionist Nancy Appleton is vehemently anti-sugar as well. She’s written a sugar takedown known as 146 reasons sugar ruins your health.

There are some who disagree with Taubes, who insist that there’s no conclusive proof that sugar is all that bad. Dr David Katz’s attacks  on Taubes’s article in the Huffington Post are worth reading if you want to look at other sides of the argument. 

Our problem with where Taubes left off is that reducing sugar consumption is a lot easier said than done, a fact he conveniently glossed over. 

Sure we can skip dessert, turn down frosted birthday cakes, and cut back on Hershey bars. But with the average American eating a whopping 31 teaspoons of sugar a day, what people overlook is that our sugar intake doesn’t just come from gobbling cake and candy from dawn to dusk.

Almost all processed products on the supermarket shelves, including health foods, are pepped up with extra sugar. Some of the worst offenders are sodas (which can contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar per can) and “low fat” products masquerading as “healthy” alternatives.

If “low sugar” pasta sauce contains three teaspoons per cup and many “healthy” breakfast cereals are made up of more than 40 percent sugar (according to a Harvard study), which products can we trust?

The answer is simple. Unless you want to spend hours deciphering how much corn syrup, dextrin, or galactose is hiding in your dinner, cook with un-tampered fresh ingredients and leave jars and packaged foods on the shelf. In fact, you can follow these 5 simple tips:

Five tips to reduce your sugar consumption

  1. Make as much of your own food from scratch as you can (salad dressings, pasta sauces, oatmeal, or breakfast cereal).
  2. Never believe healthy food claims like “guilt free” or “fat free.” Even “low sugar” claims often don’t stand up to scrutiny.
  3. Always check labels, as sugar is increasingly used in food where you might not expect it. Even our “daily bread” contains more sugar today than it did 30 years ago.
  4. Cut back on condiments. Ketchup can be made from up to 20 percent sugar. Even mustard can be a culprit.
  5. Don’t be fooled by “healthy sugar” disguises. Brown sugar, turbinado sugar, raw sugar, molasses—it is all pretty much the same thing as far as your body is concerned.

What’s your take on the sugar debate? Is it really that evil or should there be a nationwide push to cut back? Sound off in the comments.