Living well Your Health & Wellness

Foods with added sugar are not so sweet for your health

Written by Diane Archer

Americans consume a lot of sugar.  Natural sugars from fruit are generally good for you.  But anything you consume with added sugar is not so sweet for your health.  These added sugars contain calories but no other nutrients.

Researchers have found that sugar added to products during manufacturing—e.g. cereal, soda, candy—contributes not only to obesity and tooth decay but to a range of chronic conditions such as diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The best diet is a balanced diet, one in which you eat a range of foods and keep to unprocessed foods without added sugar.  While our bodies need sugar–it’s good for the brain–our bodies make glucose, a type of sugar, when they break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

According to a just-released report from the Centers for Disease Control, between 2011 and 2014, adults drank about 145 calories worth of sugar every day, to their detriment. The CDC found that more than 111 million adults in the U.S. (49.3 percent) drink at least one sugary drink a day. (Curiously, the CDC research also found that Asian-Americans drink about half the calories from sugary drinks as Whites, Blacks and Hispanic Americans.) The CDC recommends people drink water rather than sugary drinks.

In case you wondered, 300 calories, 15 percent of daily calorie consumption, is the equivalent of 22 teaspoons of sugar.  And, the data show that if you consume 2000 calories daily, drinking a 20 ounce soda such as Mountain Dew, you increase the likelihood of hurting your health. In fact, the researchers have found that if a third or more of your daily calorie intake is from added sugar, about 670 calories, then you quadruple your risk of cardiovascular disease.

USDA guidelines recommend no more than 10 percent of a person’s daily calorie intake come from food and drinks with added sugars. But, drinks alone represent 6.5 percent of a person’s caloric intake. So, if possible, avoid soda, energy drinks and sports drinks. They tend to contain a lot of sugar. And, if you’re wondering about the amount of sugar in what you’re eating or drinking, check the nutrition label. The amount of sugar will be listed under “carbohydrates.”

The United States does not provide a dietary limit for added sugar, as it does for salt and transfats, even though added sugar can be dangerous to your health. In fact, sugar is on the US Food and Drug Administration’s “generally regarded as safe” list. As a result, manufacturers can add as much sugar as they please to their processed foods. But, researchers are showing that the risk of cardiovascular disease increases when added sugar represents more than 15 percent of your caloric intake.

Some cities are using financial incentives–taxes on drinks with added sugar–to dissuade people from buying them. Time will tell whether the people in San Francisco, Oakland, Boulder, Philadelphia and Chicago fare better than others in cities and towns without this tax. According to Stat News, at least one research paper shows a 20 percent reduction in consumption of sugary drinks for every penny per ounce tax.

To learn more about sugar and the antics of the $5 billion sugar industry, watch this John Oliver video.

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