Problem: Too much sugar leads to potential poor health, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, tooth decay.
Solution: Avoid added sugar.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to avoid all sugar. There is naturally occurring sugar in fruit, milk, yogurt, and vegetables, and it would not be a good idea to cut those foods out of your diet.
But there’s an important distinction between natural sugars and added sugars. The problematic type is added sugar. It’s problematic for several reasons. For one thing, it’s often in foods you don’t expect, such as bread or tomato sauce. It also disguises itself by many different names, such as corn syrup or cane juice. Perhaps the most dangerous thing about added sugar is there’s often an exceedingly high amount. You may be drinking a soda and know that it contains sweeteners, but not be aware of how much sugar you’re actually consuming.
According to the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, added sugars should be around 10% of your calories. The recommended calorie count for the average person is 2,000, which makes the average number of added sugars 200. A can of coke is 150 calories. That’s nearly the entire amount of sugar a person is supposed to consume in a day! As you can imagine, most Americans are consuming more sugars than is recommended.
So how does this all relate to heart health?
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) compared two groups of people. One ate no more than 8 percent of daily calories from sugar, while the other consumed between 17 and 21 percent of daily calories from sugar, in other words roughly one-fifth of their diet.
The risk of dying from heart disease was 38 percent higher in the second, sugar-loving group.
Health experts at Harvard School of Public Health, who conducted this study, reviewed data from more than 100,000 American adults. They found two things. First, most US adults consume more added sugar than is healthy. Second, there was a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk of dying from heart disease.
In another study, scientists examined the effects of sugar-sweetened beverages on the risk of coronary heart disease. They concluded that just one sugary beverage per day resulted in a 16 percent increase in heart disease risk.
What about diabetes?
There are many causes that contribute to diabetes, including heredity, calories from fat and carbohydrates, but calories from added sugars certainly play into it. Studies have shown that consuming an excess of added sugars increases your risk of getting diabetes.
Obesity and tooth decay are just two more of the issues that are linked to added sugars. Another issue is malnutrition. If you are eating too much sugar, that means you are likely eating too much processed food, and not enough natural, nutrient-filled food. Just because muffins fill you up, that doesn’t mean that they’re worth eating.
The key to avoiding added sugars, is knowing their favorite hiding spots. They are often called “hidden” sugars for a reason, and they are easy to overlook.
Here are some common food sources of added sugar, where you may not expect to find it:
If you spend a little time in the supermarket, you’ll see that the amount of added sugar in certain foods—and even within the same brand—varies wildly.
For example, compare 4 ounces of Mott’s Original Applesauce (sweetened) with Mott’s Original Natural Applesauce (unsweetened). The first has 90 calories and 22 grams of sugar, while the second contains only 50 calories and 11 grams of sugar.
Although added sugar is the main problem with the overconsumption of sugar in America, too much naturally occurring sugar can also be problematic. For example, sugar is naturally occurring in fruit juice, but studies have shown that drinking fruit juice habitually is not the best idea.
As one study explains: “Despite a common perception that fruit juice is healthy, fruit juice contains high amounts of naturally occurring sugar without the fibre content of the whole fruit.” Basically, fruit juice gives us all the sweet flavors, without the healthiest part of the fruit.
Sources of sugar (both natural and added) that should be monitored:
Action Plan: If you regularly drink fruit juice, try switching to a smoothie which uses the whole fruit in the making of the drink. If you are a milk chocolate person, give dark chocolate a try, which contains magnesium and other health benefits.
Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, et al. “Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults.” JAMA Intern Med. 2014 Apr;174(4):516-24.
Pase MP, Grima N, Cockerell R, et al. “Habitual intake of fruit juice predicts central blood pressure.” Appetite. 2014 Sep 30. [Epub ahead of print.]
DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH, Lucan SC. “An unsavory truth: sugar, more than salt, predisposes to hypertension and chronic disease.” Am J Cardiol. 2014 Oct 1;114(7): 1126-8.
Huang C, Huang J, Tian Y, et al. “Sugar sweetened beverages consumption and risk of coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis of prospective studies.” Atherosclerosis. 2014 May;234(1):11-6.
Sobel LL, Dalby E. “Sugar or high fructose corn syrup – what should nurses teach patients and families?” Worldviews Evid Based Nurs. 2014 Apr;11(2):126-32.
Nutrition and Healthy Eating, January 14, 2016 http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/added-sugar/art-20045328?pg=2
Can Eating Too Much Sugar Lead To Diabetes? Leon Vorobeichik, 5/9/2012 http://www.everydayhealth.com/type-2-diabetes/diet/can-eating-too-much-sugar-cause-diabetes/
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, 7th ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Also available online: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2010.asp.