Our bodies need an ample supply of sugar to provide energy for our muscles and to keep our brains active. And while we can't function without sugar, the sources and amount of sugar we consume on daily basis can mean the difference between a healthy life and serious health problems. And there is no doubt we are consuming far too much.
In 1700, the typical person consumed an average of 4 pounds of sugar in a calendar year. The vast majority of that sugar came from healthy, natural sources like fruit, veggies, and milk—foods that also include much-needed vitamins and minerals, as well as water and fiber, which help the body process sugar in a healthy manner. Today, with all of the added sugars packed into countless processed foods, more than half of Americans consume roughly one-half pound of sugar each day—or 180 pounds each year.
Not surprisingly, the number of overweight and obese Americans has also increased significantly over the decades. Today, the average American is more than 24 pounds heavier than in 1960. The obesity rate has doubled during that time period, as 32 percent of Americans are now obese, and another one-third are overweight.
Unlike food rich in fiber, fat, or protein—which can all make you feel full—sugar can leave you feeling like you haven't had enough to eat, while also leaving you with the same amount of calories. Add to that the fact that some people are genetically predisposed to eating more sugar and the fact that sugar is hidden in countless presumably “non-sugar” foods, and it's no wonder that we eat way too much of the stuff. The fact that so many sugar-rich processed foods contain energy in the form calories—but little or no other health benefits—just compounds the problems with sugar.
Hidden Sugar Health Risks You May Not Know
While we all know that too much sugar can lead to weight gain (and, indirectly, type 2 diabetes) or other problems like tooth decay and there are other, lesser-known links between sugar and other health issues:
- Similar to how salt contributes to hypertension, excess sugar consumption has been linked to a condition called leptin resistance, which blocks leptin—a hormone that tells us when we're full—from doing its job. If we don't feel full, many of us will continue to eat, which can lead to weight gain and other health issues.
- Unhealthy amounts of sugar can accelerate the aging process, contributing to everything from increased wrinkles to memory problems and overall decreased brain power.
- Too much sugar can have a toxic effect on the liver similar to the effects of alcohol, and cause some of the same health conditions triggered by excess sugar consumption—and it can do all of this without promoting any excess weight gain.
- While increased sugar consumption—in the form of sugary carbonated drinks—has been linked to coronary heart disease, another study in the Journal of the American Heart Association indicates that excess sugar consumption can also damage the heart's pumping mechanism, increasing the risk of heart failure.
- Excess sugar intake can affect the body's ability to prevent the formation of cancer cells, as well the ability of breast cancer patients and colon cancer patients to beat the disease.
While the typical American women consumes roughly 18 teaspoons of sugar each day, the American Heart Association recommends most women cap their daily sugar consumption at 24 grams of sugar—or about six teaspoons.
Echoing the increasing concerns over sugar, the US federal government recently made their own specific recommendations on limiting sugar intake. The big change from the previous guidance in 2010 is that added sugar (any sugars added to foods that isn't naturally occurring) be no more than 10% of total calories (the old guideline did not specify how much). For a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet that equals out to a max of 200 calories of added sugar, or only 4 tablespoons. Read the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for America Chapter 2 section "A Closer Look at Current Intakes and Recommended Shifts" to learn more.
Check out the table below to see some of where these added sources of sugar to avoid come from, and how much they contain on average.
Food Category Sources of Added Sugars in the U.S. Population Ages 2 Years and Older
Source: Health.gov Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020
In order to cut back on your sugar intake, choose healthy, natural foods whenever possible. If you have to shop store shelves, don't just throw anything into the cart. As we've mentioned, sugar is often hidden in products, so it's important to read food labels. If sugar or another sweetener (like high fructose corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, agave nectar, or syrup) is among the first ingredients listed on a product, choose a healthier option.
While bringing home a cart full of only vegetables may not be realistic (or affordable), there are a variety of traditionally sugar-heavy snacks, drinks or candy bars that are made with significantly reduced sugar or even no sugar. That's why Diet Direct offers a huge variety of Sugar Conscious products, so you can still enjoy some of the foods you love, with everything from Joseph's Joseph's Sugar Free Syrup to red velvet cake to apple cinnamon oatmeal.
Browse all Sugar Free foods on Diet Direct here.