How much sugar do you intake daily? Read the ways sugar can harm your body.
Your Local Health | Written by BJ Towe
If, in a day, you consume no other added sugar than what's in six ounces of regular soda, you're probably getting too much of the sweet stuff, says Yulia Johnson, D.O., a Family Medicine physician with The Iowa Clinic. And that can increase your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and other diseases.
On average, reports the Food and Drug Administration, every American man, woman, and child consumes a whopping 16 percent of their daily caloric intake with added sugars. That's as much as 30 teaspoons each day — or three times the recommended amount.
Just how much sugar is this? Dr. Johnson says, “Imagine 35 five-pound bags of sugar lined up on your kitchen counter. Then imagine eating all of that in a year's time. That's what we are doing.” Johnson says sugar is in nearly everything we eat. “It's in our cereals, breads, grain- and dairy-based desserts, and even things that don't taste sweet — hot dogs, ketchup, and pickles, for instance.”
Unlike sugars naturally found in fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods, the bulk of the sugar in our diets has been added by food manufacturers during processing or packaging. After all, sugar is addictive, so it drives consumers to buy more. When it's converted into high fructose corn syrup, it's not only cheap, but it also delivers even bigger sugar jolts to consumers' bodies.
“Your body processes high fructose corn syrup differently than it does ordinary sugar,” says Johnson. “The burden falls on your liver, which is not capable of keeping up with how quickly corn syrup breaks down. As a result, blood sugar spikes quicker. It's stored as fat, so you can become obese and develop other health problems, such as diabetes, much faster.”
Added Sugar & Your Kids
In addition to setting the stage for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses, kids who consume too much sugar are more likely to have weakened immunity, frequent cold-like symptoms, stomachaches, and poor appetite. They're less able to concentrate in school and prone to exercise less.
Potential problems can begin as early as in infancy, says Dr. Johnson. “Formula-fed babies tend to consume more calories and gain more weight than those that are breast-fed.”
Growing children often get high doses of sugar through fruit juices, sodas, and other sugary drinks. “Studies show that kids who consume more sugary drinks are more prone to have coronary artery disease later in life,” says Dr. Khan.
Johnson adds, “Half of a cup of juice is all any child needs in a day. According to Pediatrics magazine, every sugar drink a child consumes increases obesity risk by 50 percent.”
Sweetened breakfast cereals are another concern. “Eating a bowl of sugary cereal every morning can add up to about 10 pounds of added sugar a year,” Johnson says.
She recommends that parents offer low-sugar cereals (regular Cheerios, unsweetened oatmeal and Cream of Wheat, for example), keep healthy snacks available (whole fruits and vegetables, trail mix, cheese slices, and raisins), and avoid processed foods, including canned fruits and vegetables.
The Health Problems
Research links added sugar to an increase in:
There's no question that added sugar contributes to the nation's obesity epidemic. “We consume an insane amount of sugar,” says Johnson. In fact, estimates are that 74 percent of our packaged foods contain added sugar.
The single biggest source, reports the American Heart Association, comes in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages. All else being equal, “If you drink one can of regular soda a day, you will gain about 10 to 15 pounds per year,” says Johnson.
“Once a person becomes obese, it creates stress on the body in so many different ways. It contributes to fat in your liver and abdominal area, plaque buildup in the arteries, high blood pressure, and eventually many other diseases,” she says.
2. Type 2 Diabetes
Although sugar consumption isn't directly related to developing diabetes, being overweight is.
Johnson explains: “Your body's cells need sugar for energy and function. Your body produces insulin to carry blood sugar to the cells. As you gain pounds and put more and more sugar into your body, your body tries to keep up by producing more insulin, but your body can become insulin resistant. That's one way type 2 diabetes develops,” Johnson explains.
When a person is diagnosed with diabetes, they must carefully monitor their diet to avoid potentially life-threatening complications.
3. High Blood Pressure, Heart Disease, and Stroke
Nasser Khan, M.D., a Cardiologist with The Iowa Clinic, says: “There's a clear correlation between sugar consumption and high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.”
While there are several theories as to why sugar raises blood pressure, Dr. Khan says, “Excess belly fat can make you more prone to having heart disease.
“Sugar consumption also contributes to metabolic syndrome, which is present when someone has a large girth, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar,” he says. Metabolic syndrome is a significant predictor of coronary artery disease.
It's been said that cancer cells feed on sugar. That's true, says Johnson, but every cell needs some sugar to survive. “Starving cancer cells results in starving healthy cells, too,” she says.
A better approach for cancer patients — anyone, in fact — is to focus on eating high-fiber carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index. These foods produce a slow and steady rise in blood sugar. To learn more, talk with your physician. In the United States, added sugar is in 74 percent of packaged foods.
The Worst Offenders List
1. Liquid Sugars – More harmful than solid sugars because they are absorbed quickly into the blood stream, these include regular sodas, fruit juices, and energy drinks. Studies show that if you reduce liquid calories in your diet, you'll lose weight more quickly.
2. Solid Sugars – These sugars are contained with other ingredients and are therefore absorbed more slowly. They include many breakfast cereals, processed grains (white bread, pasta, etc.), canned fruits and vegetables, cakes, cookies, pies, sweetened dairy products, and desserts.
3. High-Fructose Corn Syrup – Developed as a cheap source of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup contains the same amount of calories as other sugars. However, the concentration of sugar is actually much higher.
Recommendation vs. Reality
The American Heart Association recommends consuming more than 10% of daily calories in the form of added sugar. One teaspoon of sugar contains 16 calories.
- Toddlers (Ages 1-3) | 3 – 4 teaspoons | 12 teaspoons
- Children (Ages 4-8) | 5 – 8 teaspoons | 21 teaspoons
- Adolescent Girls | 6 teaspoons | 15 teaspoons
- Adolescent Boys | 9 teaspoons | 22 teaspoons
- Adult Women | 6 teaspoons | 15 teaspoons
- Adult Men | 9 teaspoons | 22 teaspoons
Spot Sugar on Food Labels
Food manufacturers hide added sugar behind as many as 60 different names. Here are some easy tips for spotting them:
1. Watch out for “-ose.” If an ingredient ends in “ose,” it's likely sugar. Some examples: Sucrose, Maltose, Dextrose, Fructose, Glucose, Galactose, Lactose, High-Fructose Corn Syrup, Glucose Solids.
2. Avoid ingredients containing these words or phrases: Cane Juice, Fruit Juice, Dextrin, Barley Malt, Sugar, Syrup, Sweetener, Diatese, Diatastic malt, Turbinado, Ethyl maltol.