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This is What Added Sugars are Doing to Your Health

October 29, 2020

More and more studies support the notion that added sugars don’t do your body good. It's easy to consume extra calories when eating foods that are sugar-sweetened. Eating an excessive amount of added sugar can increase triglyceride levels, which may increase your risk of heart disease — but that’s only the beginning.

Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. Naturally occurring sugars such as those in fruit or milk are not added sugars. Knowing the difference between them can help you control the amount of sugar you’re consuming each day, which can improve your health and your weight.

Let’s look at the most recent studies on added sugars and why they’re so hard on your health.

Sugar And Your Heart

Your first goal should be to try to avoid sugar as much as you can. Sugars provide extra calories, do not provide any nutritional value, and have direct adverse effects on health — for example, dental cavities, inflammation and heart disease.

In fact, a recent study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, linked sugar consumption with larger fat deposits around the heart and in the abdomen. Researchers say that when you consume too much sugar, the excess is converted to fat and stored. They add that the findings support limiting your added sugar intake.

There is now a considerable body of evidence linking added sugars to hypertension and cardiovascular disease, which is the No. 1 cause of premature death in the developed world.

A 2019 study that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association found people who took in 25% or more of their daily calories as sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease than those whose diets included less than 10% added sugar.

Sugar and Cancer Risk

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, there is a connection between sugar and cancer risk. What’s important to understand is that it’s more of an indirect connection.

Here’s why.

Eating a lot of high-sugar foods may mean more calories in your diet than you need, which eventually leads to excess body fat. After not smoking, being at a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do to prevent cancer. It is excess body fat that is convincingly linked to a greater risk of these 12 types of cancer:

  • Breast (post-menopausal)
  • Colorectal
  • Endometrial
  • Esophageal
  • Gallbladder
  • Kidney
  • Liver
  • Mouth/Pharynx/Larynx
  • Ovarian
  • Pancreatic
  • Prostate (advanced)
  • Stomach

Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute suggest that while it is not necessary to completely avoid sugar, reducing added sugars and consuming nutrient-dense, high-fiber carbohydrates may be most effective.

What You Can Do

The American Heart Association recommends that Americans drastically cut back on added sugar to help slow the obesity and heart disease epidemics. Their researchers suggest taking certain steps to help support your overall health, promote blood glucose control, and maintain a healthy weight. They include:

  1. Choose whole grains.
  2. Limit added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends women should have no more than six teaspoons of sugar per day (25 grams) and men should have no more than nine teaspoons of sugar per day (37 grams).
  3. Balance your plate. Make 50% of your plate high-fiber vegetables and fruit. Twenty-five percent of your plate should be protein-rich foods and the other 25% should be whole grains.

There’s no nutritional need or benefit that comes from eating added sugar. A good rule of thumb is to avoid products that have a lot of added sugar, including skipping foods that list “sugar” as the first or second ingredient.

If you’re eating a diet that is high in sugar, you may be putting yourself at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, even if you’re maintaining a healthy weight. Millions of Americans are prediabetic and about 30% of them are not overweight.

Dr. Craft-Portion Sizes

Get the facts on your blood sugar by downloading our guide “Know Your Numbers: Blood Sugar.” You’ll learn four simple things you can do right now to prevent prediabetes from becoming diabetes.