Rahwa Neguse used to be the queen of sugar. But now, she cut out all processed sugars and switched to natural sweeteners. "We use raw honey, organic honey, as well as dates," says 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 says she has more energy and feels better.
That's no surprise to Gary Taubes, Author of The Case Against Sugar. Taubes says sugar must go. "What crime am I prosecuting sugar for?" And 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 says 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 a 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: Sara Soka, a main voice 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. 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%."
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 says 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 says legislation isn't the only way to enact change.
She says, "Every time somebody buys a food, that person is voting with a fork for the kind of food system that they want. And 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," says Dr. Eduardo Padrón, President of Miami Dade College, a leading educator and recipient of the Medal of Freedom.
Social responsibility and food is important to Dr. Padrón who says students are hungry for change. "They are very, very much aware of the trends that are taking place today. 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 says.