What’s the Big Deal About Added Sugar?
Over the last 30 years, added sugar has been one of the leading contributors to America’s obesity epidemic. And until recently, it’s also been one of the most underreported and underestimated health risks. Here’s the scoop on exactly what makes sugar so dangerous, and why it’s taken a while for the truth to come out.
First, there’s a big difference between added sugar and naturally-occurring sugar. Added sugar refers to any type of sugar or sweetener that is added to foods or beverages during preparation or processing.
Some common types of added sugars are brown sugar, honey, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, malt sugar, molasses, raw sugar and sugar molecules ending in “ose” like dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose and sucrose. And that’s not all. There are at least 61 different names for sugar that could be listed on food labels. And of course, added sugar also includes the sugars you add yourself, like a spoonful to your coffee or honey to your oatmeal.
Naturally-occurring sugars are found in foods like fruit (as fructose) or milk (as lactose). While sugar is sugar, naturally-occurring sugars are usually accompanied with fiber, which makes the sugar a more healthful, sustained source of energy.
How Much Sugar is Too Much Sugar?
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories of added sugar (that’s 6 teaspoons or 24 grams) per day for women, and 150 calories (9 teaspoons or 36 grams) per day for men. Teens and children should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar each day.
But in reality, the average American consumes about 19.5 teaspoons (82 grams) of added sugar each day, which is three times the recommend amount, and adds up to 66 pounds of added sugar per year. Which is, generously, too much sugar.
All this extra added sugar is very, very bad for your health. Studies link added sugar to cardiovascular disease, the world’s number one cause of death. In fact, a 2014 study found that people who consumed 17-21 percent of their calories from added sugars had a 38 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than people who got 8 percent of their calories from added sugar.
Eating a diet high in added sugar can also increase the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, obesity and more.
So how did this epidemic come to be? How did things get so out of control? Unfortunately, the dangers of sugar haven’t always been so clear.
For many decades, health officials encouraged a low-fat diet, which for many people, meant consuming lots of high-carbohydrate, high-sugar foods. It also meant lots of Americans missed out on the benefits of the good fats needed for healthy cholesterol levels, weight management and more.
Promoting a low-fat diet also took the focus off of whole foods, and onto “franken foods” like heavily processed, low-fat or fat-free potato chips, cookies, candy, dressing, yogurt, ice cream and frozen dinners, which were, you guessed it, packed with added sugar. These are the same low-fat, high-sugar foods that some experts now blame for feeding the obesity crisis for so many years.
Today, while the government and other health officials still warn against consuming too much saturated fat, they’ve also started to focus more on the threats of too much added sugar. The American Heart Association, World Health Organization and other health authorities have begun to warn the public about the health effects of excessive added sugar, especially in terms of the risk it poses to cardiovascular health.
Looking to cut back on sugar but not sure where to start? Check out our infographic below to see how much added sugar is in some of America’s most popular foods. And, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about safe and easy ways to eliminate excess added sugar from your diet.