The Dangerous Side Of Sugar
As if you needed another good reason to kick your soda habit, a new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that a diet heavy in added sugar is linked to elevated triglyceride levels and may increase your risk for a heart attack.
Added sugars such as cane sugar, beet sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, glucose, fructose, evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrate, and honey are used to sweeten packaged foods like sodas and fruit drinks, cereal, candy, cookies, and baked goods. In the study published this week, researchers at Emory University found that individuals who consume large amounts of added sugar have lower HDL ("good") cholesterol levels and higher triglyceride levels than individuals who eat less of the sweet stuff. Among women only, high added sugar intake was also linked to increased LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. All of these red-flag numbers-low HDL, high triglycerides, high LDL-are independent risk factors for heart disease, which means that guzzling sugary coffee drinks and chomping down cookies may be putting your ticker in harm's way.
Research has already shown that regular consumption of foods high in added sugars is associated with weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and cavities, but this is the first study of its kind to link sugar intake to cholesterol levels in humans. And that's bad news for Americans, who now consume about 16% of their daily total calories as added sugar. Soda is the number one source of added sugar, contributing about a third of all added sugar in the American diet.
Unfortunately, guidelines for added sugar intake are all over the map and hardly user-friendly. Last year, the American Heart Association released new recommendations advising that women consume fewer than 100 calories from added sugar daily and men consume fewer than 150 calories. While I'm glad the organization called attention to our population's growing sugar problem, these guidelines are very difficult to put into practice, especially since "added sugars" aren't specifically listed on nutrition labels. (The Nutrition Facts Panel lists "Sugars" under "Total Carbohydrate", but this refers to total sugar in the product. Total sugar is a combination of added sugars and naturally-occurring sugars found primarily in fruit and dairy products. While added sugars don't provide anything but empty calories, the natural sugars in fruit and dairy products come packaged with healthful nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals and don't need to be strictly limited.)
Plus, in order to see if you're staying below the American Heart Association calorie cutoffs, you need to know that every gram of added sugar contributes 4 calories, and then do a little arithmetic. Complete hassle!
If you don't feel like tabulating your exact added sugar intake each day, follow my 4 guidelines and you'll automatically cut back on the added sugar in your diet.
Eliminate soda and sugary drinks (including sports drinks, sweetened waters, juice drinks, and caloric cocktails). Choose plain water or naturally flavored seltzer instead.
Use sugar (and other sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, agave, and molasses) sparingly. Add no more than 1 to 2 teaspoons in coffee, tea, or oatmeal.
Choose packaged foods with minimal added sugar. For example, cereals should have no more than 8 grams of sugar per serving.
Be selective with sweet splurges. Either allow yourself a daily sweet treat around 150 calories, or indulge in a more decadent dessert no more than once or twice a week. My favorite sweet treats are foods that balance sugar with something healthy, such as a scoop of ice cream or pudding-both high in calcium; 1 oz dark chocolate-has tons of antioxidants; or a dollop of whipped cream with berries-loaded with fiber and vitamin C.