Sugar has become ubiquitous within the American diet. It’s not just candy that’s the problem - sugar is a common ingredient in almost everything we eat. Most of us know sugar isn’t great for our health, however its harmful properties are regularly underestimated.
Too much sugar in our diet doesn’t just cause cavities; excess sugar can rapidly lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
The American Heart Association recommends that women consume less than 100 calories of added sugar per day (6 teaspoons) and men consume less than 150 calories of sugar per day (9 teaspoons). In reality, men and women each eat an average of 22 teaspoons of sugar every day – more than double (or triple!) the recommended amount.
But as the prevalence of sugar has risen – so has the confusion surrounding its sources and side effects. Sugar is often disguised with pseudonyms on labels and is one of the most harmful ingredients we ingest.
So in order to ensure good health for you and your loved ones, here’s a comprehensive guide to America’s deadliest sweet treat.
What is Sugar?
Let’s get back to the basics. Sugar is a carbohydrate that comes in a few different varieties. Simple sugars (monosaccharaides) include glucose and fructose. Complex sugars (disaccharides) include sucrose, maltose, and lactose.
Glucose is naturally found in fruits and plants and is a derivative of photosynthesis. Our bodies burn glucose as energy or convert it into fuel for our liver and muscles.
Fructose is naturally found in many fruits and vegetables, and is not the preferred energy source for our muscles or our brain. It’s also more fat-producing than glucose, and behaves more like a fat in our bodies than a carbohydrate. But when consumed as part of a fruit or vegetable, it’s accompanied by fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Sucrose is known as table sugar, and is harvested from either the stems of sugar cane or the roots of sugar beets. The plants are processed, refined, and bleached until they resemble white sugar: a sweet, odorless, crystalline powder that contains absolutely zero nutritional value.
As consumers become more health conscious, food manufacturing companies have made a concerted effort to disguise the amount of sugar in their products.
It’s a legal requirement for labels on packaged foods to list all ingredients in order of their prominence - but of course there’s a workaround for that...
By using different types of sugar in a single product, manufacturers are able to spread out the amount of sugar across multiple ingredients and hide them further down the list.
Translation? Sugar is often included on food labels under a variety of different names. These can include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Agave nectar
- Brown sugar
- Cane sugar
- Corn Sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Crystalline fructose
- Evaporated cane juice
- High fructose corn syrup
- Malt syrup
- Raw sugar
- Fruit juice concentrate
Hiding in Plain Sight
Sugar isn’t just found in candy – it’s a pervasive ingredient present within almost everything we eat. Aside from the obvious desserts, sugar can be found in a number of salad dressings, marinades, crackers, cereals, pastas, sauces, bread, and other packaged and processed products.
And then there’s soda: a 12-ounce can of soda contains approximately 9 teaspoons of sugar – placing all women and many men above their daily recommended limit!
Sugar in Supplements
An unexpected source of sugar however, is children’s supplements.
It can be a challenge to get kids to eat healthy greens full of essential nutrients. So to balance their children’s diets, many parents have enlisted the help of nutritional supplements. Kids are often much more willing to eat a chewable or gummy vitamin over a spoonful of spinach. Hardly surprising when we learn that most of these products are packed with sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Lots of popular supplement brands contain multiple varieties of sugar buried within their labels, including: corn syrup, glucose syrup, dextrose, lactose, and fructose.
The Devastating Effects...
Consuming excess sugar can have a number of harmful and potentially fatal side effects. Sugar is linked to heart disease, obesity, liver damage, type 2 diabetes, and the production of cancerous cells.
A 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that a diet high in sugar can significantly raise your risk of heart disease. The study examined participants over the course of 15 years, and found that those who consumed 25 percent or more of their daily calories as sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease than those who consumed 10 percent or less of their daily calories from sugar. They found this to be true regardless of the person’s age, sex, physical activity level, or body mass index.
Consuming too much sugar is one of the leading causes of obesity today. Sugar is full of empty calories that don’t make you feel full – it’s simultaneously addictive, which can lead to overeating. The rise in childhood obesity has also been directly associated to the consumption of sweetened beverages – only one serving of soda or sweetened juice has been linked to a 60 percent increased risk of childhood obesity.
Our liver is only able to metabolize fructose in small amounts. However, we consistently consume more fructose than our liver can handle. As a result, rather than turning fructose into glycogen for fuel, our liver will store it as fat. When excess fructose gets stuck in our liver, it can lead to non-alcoholic liver disease or fatty liver.
Type 2 diabetes
Excess sugar consumption has also been associated to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Our bodies need insulin to convert glucose into energy. But when we eat too much glucose, our cells stop responding to insulin. As our cells become resistant to insulin, beta cells in the pancreas begin to produce more of it. This can lead to dangerously high levels of insulin, which can cause our blood sugar levels to rise and raise our risk for type 2 diabetes.
Sugar consumption has also been associated with the growth of cancerous cells. Insulin helps regulate the growth of cells in our bodies, but elevated levels of insulin, caused by sugar consumption, can create insulin resistance and prevent the control or multiplication of potentially harmful cells.
Where do we go from here?
In order to lead long and healthy lives it’s important to cut out excess sugar from our diet.
Read food labels carefully and be conscientious of hidden sugar buried deep within ingredient lists.
Ditch the soda and sweetened beverages for healthier drink options.
Don’t avoid sugar found in fruits and vegetables – they contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are essential to a healthy diet.
Substitute your current supplements for organic and independently tested micro and macro nutrients that offer you essential vitamins and minerals with no artificial ingredients or sweeteners.
If you haven't seen it already - go and watch 'That Sugar Film' it's a must-see for anyone still on the fence about sugar!