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Nutrition

Get excited about nutrition, and learn as you go with these information-packed resources on a wide variety of nutrition-centric topics! Our bistroMD experts review the importance of the macronutrients protein, fat, and carbohydrates, as well as how to make them work most efficiently for you.

Sugar Identified as a Leading Contributor to Many Health Concerns

Sometimes the truth can be a little… bittersweet. Sugar—in all its sweet forms—has been identified as the leading contributor to many health concerns. Even more than the dreaded dietary cholesterol. And probably even more than salt.

Sugar Identified as a Leading Contributor to Many Health Concerns


We’ve had enough with tired nutrition advice. And apparently, so has the nutrition advisory panel for the United States – also known as the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. They have ramped up their stance on added sugars –and have identified it as one of the primary contributors to cardiovascular disease.

A Bigger Contributor than Even Cholesterol

Not only did the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee point to added sugars in foods to be a prime culprit in the development of heart disease, they also stopped putting all the blame on dietary cholesterol.  While some people might see their cholesterol levels increase significantly after consuming cholesterol-rich foods, the truth is—the large majority of people don’t have a sharp increase in cholesterol levels after eating a high cholesterol food, like a 3-egg omelet.

High intake of saturated fats, however, might still be a contributing factor, though this is still a common debate between those who follow a paleo-type meal plan vs. vegetarianism.

But back to the sweet, sugary truth.

The average consumption of sugar in US equates to about 22 to 30 teaspoons each daily, almost half of that in liquid form from soda, juice and sugary drinks.

How Much Sugar?

The World Health Organization has dropped their recommendations from 10% of daily calorie intake to just 5% coming from process and refined sugars. – if you are a normal BMI – that’s about 6 total teaspoons of sugar (or if you are reading the label—25g) each day.

Compare the average intake (about 26 teaspoons) of sugar in the US to that to the recommended 6 teaspoons per day for women, and 9 teaspoons per day for men, and it’s easy to conclude we’ve got a ton of room for improvement.

Excess sugar comes in a variety of forms, and includes the infamous high fructose corn syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, raw sugar, malt syrup, maple syrup, pancake syrup, fructose sweetener, liquid fructose, honey, molasses, and dextrose.

Juice isn’t always all its juiced up to be, either. Even if the label says it’s 100% juice, it’s still essentially sugar water. You would have to eat 5 apples in order to get the same amount of sugar found in an 8 oz glass of apple juice, a feat which most people wouldn’t be able to accomplish.

Sugar in all its forms is a huge problem, not only for our waistlines but also for our blood vessels and heart muscle.

Cutting sugar out of your day might not be as easy as it seems. Hidden sugar is lurking everywhere, ready to tickle your taste buds in your favorite sweet and savory foods.  Sugar can hide in plain sight in condiments like relish, ketchup, and cocktail sauce, as well as salad dressings, marinades, and even spice rubs.

In fact, a tablespoon of ketchup contains a full teaspoon of sugar. And that’s just a tablespoon—it’s hard to limit ketchup to just a tablespoon, with most people using around ¼ cup per sitting.

Pro Tip: Shop the Outer Walls of the Grocery Store

Here’s quick hint, if you shop around the circumference of your supermarket—where all of the fresh foods like meats, vegetables, and fruits are placed—then you have a much better chance of avoiding all those added sugars, because you’ll be automatically avoiding all the processed foods.

Avoiding processed foods means you’ll also be reducing your sodium intake. But skimping one the sugar is probably more important. Recent studies have identified sugar intake, rather than salt intake, as a more likely cause of both hypertension and cardiometabolic diseases overall.

Cardiometa-what? Cardiometabolic disease is a term that encompasses high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic dysfuntion, all of which are associated with the development and progression of chronic disease.

Scientists have confirmed that reducing sugar intakes, and particularly fructose, can reduce hypertension rates, and might also help address the broad issues that arrive with cardiometabolic disease.

2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

For more on Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015 visit Health.gov. The Guidelines are slotted for publication in Fall of 2015.

Resources:

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdf Accessed 3.9.2015.

DiNicolantonio JJ1, Lucan SC2. The wrong white crystals: not salt but sugar as aetiological in hypertension and cardiometabolic disease. Open Heart. 2014 Nov 3;1(1):e000167. doi: 10.1136/openhrt-2014-000167. eCollection 2014.

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