Sugar – How Bad is It?

There is no way to sweeten the message that eating too much sugar is extremely harmful to your health.  It is a primary factor leading to obesity as well as chronic disease, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  The question becomes how much is too much, and how do we control how much we eat?

The American Heart Association recommends that we consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day.  The average American gets 19.5 teaspoons of added sugar every day.  The added sugar you eat, which is usually in the form of fructose, has to be processed by your liver and turned into glucose before your body can use it.  Too much sugar overloads your liver and it starts turning it into fat, which can result in weight gain as well as fatty liver disease, a contributor to diabetes which also raises your risk of heart disease.  The excess added sugar can raise your blood pressure and it also feeds the bad bacteria in your gut which causes inflammation that leads to chronic disease like cardiovascular disease.

The main sources of added sugar in our diet are processed foods and beverages including soft drinks, sports drinks, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, condiments like ketchup and even breads and soups.  According to SugarScience.org, there are added sugars in 74% of processed foods under more than 60 different names.  These names include brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, high fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, malt sugar, molasses and syrup sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose).  Check the label on any processed food you’re eating to see how much sugar you’re getting.

The best way to cut back on added sugars is to eliminate or significantly reduce your consumption of processed foods and instead eat whole, real foods.  Sugar occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy.  Plant foods also have high amounts of fiber though, which reduces the rate at which your body absorbs the natural sugars and counteracts the negative effects.  Go ahead and feel free to eat whole fruit but stay away from fruit juice that gives you the sugar but not the fiber.

Plant foods with naturally occurring sugars also provide nutrients and antioxidants in addition to beneficial fiber.  When eaten mindfully and in moderation, the benefits far outweigh the potential harmful effects.  Balance your consumption of fruits higher in sugar with high-fiber vegetables and whole grains as well as healthy fats from nuts, seeds and avocados.  As much as possible, stay away from refined sugar.

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