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The Scourge of Sugar

Adapted from “Added Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Children” published in the journal Circulation in August 2016.

Eating too much sugar can not only lead to obesity but also to metabolic disease, fatty liver disease, hypertension, kidney disease, early onset of diabetes, and heart disease as well as general inflammation that may lead to other diseases like cancer.

Excessive sugar consumption has also been associated with suboptimal fertility.

The average American consumes anywhere from a quarter to a half pound of sugar a day.

Sugar has addictive qualities, especially for young children whose taste buds are being shaped by the foods they eat. Sugar stimulates brain pathways just as an opioid would. Cravings induced by sugar are comparable to those induced by addictive drugs like cocaine and nicotine.

Sugar is added to foods by an industry whose goal is to engineer products to be as irresistible and addictive as possible. Sugar in various forms can be found in 80 percent of the products on supermarket shelves, and not just in the candy and desserts where we would expect to find it, but in seemingly healthy products as well.

Added sugars have a host of names on food ingredient labels, such as high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice, beet syrup, sugar cane syrup and more.

In the Added Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Children study, a panel of researchers from the American Heart Association took a deep look at how sugar impacts cardiovascular health of children.

They state that the typical American child eats about triple the recommended amount of added sugars, half from food and half from drinks. The top contributors to added sugars intake include soda, fruit-flavored and sports drinks, and cakes and cookies.

The American Heart Association now recommends that children 2 years and older and adults consume no more than six teaspoons (about 100 calories) of added sugar a day and limit their intake of sugary beverages to no more than one 8-ounce beverage per week. The limit of six teaspoons of added sugar is also what the World Health Organization recommends.

Their statement also said children younger than 2 should not consume any added sugars.

While this is a noble goal, it is very difficult to achieve for people whose regular daily diet includes any packaged or processed foods. For example, six teaspoons roughly amounts to a serving of flavored yogurt.

Foods like fruit-flavored yogurts, sports drinks, pasta sauce, cereal, ketchup, energy bars, and barbecue sauce are all loaded with added sugar.

Substituting whole foods for sweet industrial concoctions may be a hard sell, but in the face of an industry that is exploiting our biological nature to keep us addicted, it may be the best solution.

A recent study found that after just nine days without added sugar, even though the diet still was full of non-sugary junk food like chips and hot dogs, metabolic health improved drastically in overweight children, and their appetite decreased. Thus the sugar itself, and not just the calories it represents in a diet, is the culprit in numerous health problems.

In conclusion, associations between added sugars and increased cardiovascular disease risk factors are present at levels far below current consumption levels. The American Heart Association committee found that it is reasonable to recommend that people older than 2 years consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugars per day and added sugar should be completely avoided for children 2 years of age or younger.

The Scourge of Sugar


December 2016


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