The Health Risks Of Sugar You May Not Know About

Sugar is present in all of our daily diets. The whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy foods we consume contain natural sugars that our body burns or stores as fat.

This type of sugar is perfectly healthy. What may prove to be toxic to our health is sugar added to food artificially during preparation or processing.

Increased Sugar Consumption Over Time

In 1700, the average person in England consumed approximately four pounds of sugar per year. In 1800, it increased to 18 pounds annually. That number jumped to a yearly intake of 47 pounds in 1870.

Today, an average American eats more than 22 teaspoons of added-sugar daily, or about 77 pounds each year.

The American Heart Association (AHA) issued its own warning about eating too much sugar, stating that sugar gives us calories without nutritional benefit. In addition, there are currently several doctors and scientists who say the problem with sugar is not empty calories, but that sugar is toxic.

Sugar 'A Poison By Itself '

“It has nothing to do with its calories,” said Robert Lustig, endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco. “Sugar is a poison by itself when consumed at high doses.”

Lustig says we gain weight because we eat a lot of sweetened foods and sugar saps our energy.

“It seems like every time I study an illness and trace a path to the first cause, I find my way back to sugar,” said Richard Johnson, a nephrologist at The University of Colorado at Denver.

Johnson stated that only five percent of adults worldwide had high blood pressure in 1900. Today, one-third of adults do.

In 1980, 153 million individuals had diabetes. Today, that number is 347 million.

The health issue with sugar can also be addressed by the way our body metabolizes the sugar fructose.

Our Body and Sugar

Table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup are a mix of glucose and fructose. Our body handles these two sugars differently.

Glucose is metabolized (processed) in cells throughout our body, whereas fructose is managed mostly by the liver. When we consume sugary foods and drinks, fructose rushes to the liver where it is broken down into fats called triglycerides. Some of the fat remains in the liver, but most of the triglycerides go into our blood stream.

With high levels of triglycerides in our blood circulation:

  • Our blood pressure rises and we become increasingly insulin resistant.
  • To keep our system in balance, the pancreas pumps out more insulin.
  • Eventually, metabolic syndrome (e.g., high blood pressure, weight gain) sets in and can lead to type 2 diabetes and increased risk of heart disease.

Unfortunately, food manufacturers use added-sugars to make our low-fat and fat-free products taste good. There are also accusations that added-sugars are put in many foods because they are addicting.

Seven Tips To Cut Back On Added Sugar

The only remedy for sugar overload is to stop eating so much of it. These are several tips to lower your sugar intake.

  1. Choose less sugary snacks such as low-fat cheese, whole fruit, raw veggies, nuts, seeds, or whole grain crackers.
  2. Buy 100 percent pure fruit juices with little or no sugar added. Better yet, enjoy whole fruits instead of juice.
  3. Jellies, jams, syrups, and certain condiments come in low-sugar varieties. They have less added-sugar and no artificial sweeteners.
  4. Avoid sugary sodas, sports or energy drinks, and whipped-cream coffee confections.
  5. Fresh fruit is a good alternative to sugar laden desserts, though fruit should be eaten in moderation because it contains fructose.
  6. Canned fruit packed in its own juice or in water is a healthier choice than fruit drenched in syrup. You can also opt for stocking up on bags of frozen fruit.
  7. Avoid frosted, heavily sugared breakfast cereals. A healthier choice is oatmeal topped with sliced fruit or berries.

One teaspoon of table sugar is equal to four grams of sugar. The AHA recommends no more than 36 grams of added sugar each day for men and 24 grams for women.

Sources: National Geographic; Mayo Clinic
Photo credit: Jeanny / flickr creative commons

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