Sugar: How Much of What is Safe?


sugar consumptionNo animal in the history of the planet has ever consumed as much added sugar as Americans consume today. Daily intakes average somewhere between 30 and 50 teaspoons. In one review of Americans’ eating habits by the National Cancer Institute, 78% of women and 67% of men eat too much added sugar. (In the same study, 90% of the people failed to meet even minimum standards for green and orange vegetables, beans, milk products, and whole grains!)

The worst offender is liquid sugars, since they don’t curb appetite, so become calories added to the diet, rather than replacing calories. There is strong evidence that sugar-sweetened beverages, the primary source of added sugar in our diets, increase a person’s risk for being overweight, which in turn increases the risk for almost all age-related diseases, from dementia to heart disease. A study from the University of Southampton, UK found that added sugars and sugar-sweetened beverages are linked to higher waist circumference and body mass index. While you’ll gain the same amount of weight by eating 100 extra calories from sugar as you would from fat, there is mounting evidence that fructose is more likely than other calories to head for the belly. Belly fat, also called visceral fat, is closely linked to risks for heart disease and diabetes. 

Added sugars are not just empty calories. They also harm our health. For example, a sweet tooth also increases diabetes risk. Sugar-sweetened-beverage drinkers are up to 35% more likely to develop diabetes and heart disease. They also have up to a 20% increased risk for metabolic syndrome. Their HDL levels are lower and their triglyceride levels are higher compared to people who curb their sugar intakes. In addition, liver and muscle fat more than double when people drink sugary beverages on a regular basis. A study from the National Cancer Institute found that fructose intake, primarily from beverages, was linked to a higher incidence of all-cause mortality in both men and women.

What is a person to do? According to the American Heart Association, added sugar (i.e., high fructose corn syrup, glucose, dextrose, honey, cane or beet sugars, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, etc.) should be limited to no more than 100 calories (61/2 teaspoons) a day for women and no more than 150 calories (91/2 teaspoons) for men. Less is better. Also, don’t drink sugar-sweetened beverages and limit fruit juices to no more than 1 cup a day. Don’t worry about natural sugars in fruit, milk, or plain yogurt. Read labels: 4 grams equals 1 teaspoon of sugar. Also, don’t be fooled by sugars with a “health halo” such as organic cane sugar or agave syrup. They all are considered added sugars. 

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2014;99:1077-1088 and 1479-1486. / / /


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