Are you getting too much sugar in your diet? The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and nine teaspoons for men.
Yet Americans are consuming an average of 66 pounds of it per person per year, according to SugarScience.org.
And America’s taste for sweet eats is steadily growing. Sugar consumption increased by 39 percent between 1950 and 2000, according to a study by the USDA.
Of course, with added sugar hiding in nearly three-fourths of all packaged foods – bread and pasta sauce in addition to cookies and cakes — it can be difficult to dodge.
But failing to reduce your intake of sweetened foods can have some major consequences.
Here are five reasons to stay away from sugar.
- It has no nutritional value
Did you know that sugar has zero essential nutrients? It has no proteins, fiber, essential fats, vitamins or minerals.
That means that when you consume added sugar, you’re simply consuming “empty calories.”
“Sugar has always been buffered by fiber, phytonutrients, and other whole-food constituents when coming in the form of fruits or vegetables,” says James DiNicolantonio, PharmD and cardiovascular research scientist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute.
But today, high fructose corn syrup and table sugar are being dumped into all sorts of foods and beverages.
“Almost all of us are now getting sugar loads that our bodies never evolved to handle,” says DiNicolantonio.
- It may be addictive
If your sweet tooth is constantly begging for more, you may have a sugar dependence.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has shown that sugar causes changes in the brain that are similar to those addicted to drugs like cocaine and alcohol.
In fact, “Refined sugar has been proven to be addictive in rats, more so than even IV cocaine,” says DiNicolantonio.
Indeed, a 2013 study by the Universite de Bordeaux found that sugar can be habit forming.
And it certainly isn’t a food you want to be dependent on.
Sugar dependence, DiNicolantonio says, is likely the main contributor to most chronic diseases facing the Western World.
That’s a very good incentive for switching to sugar-free alternatives.
- It can increase your chance of disease
The overconsumption of refined sugar (table sugar and high fructose corn syrup) has been found to be a principal driver of Type 2 diabetes and obesity, says DiNicolantonio. In addition, it likely is a major contributor to chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure and possibly intestinal damage, he adds.
As if that isn’t enough, it may also cause heart disease. A 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that those who took in 25 percent or more of their daily calories as sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those with diets that had 10 percent or less added sugar.
In other words, the more sugar you have in your diet, the bigger the chance you have of dying from heart disease.
- It can cause tooth decay
If your teeth are prone to cavities, lighten up on the sweets. Sugar is the only cause of cavities, says Aubrey Sheiham, professor emeritus of dental public health at the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London.
Fortunately, due to the widespread use of fluoride toothpastes, tooth decay is on the decline overall, notes Sheiham.
Still, that doesn’t put you in the clear. The rate of tooth decay increases as you get older. In fact, while the rate of tooth decay is low in children, it’s going up in adults. “That is because sugars are causing decay later in life,” Sheiham says.
Here’s an important note. Even “natural sugars” from fruits can cause tooth decay, if squeezed into a juice, notes Sheiham. So it’s not just added sugars that are causing problems.
The takeaway here: Brush your teeth, floss, use mouthwash and cut back on sweets, especially as you age.
You can also get some extra protection by using a product like Xlear Spry Dental Defense Mints, which improve oral health.
- It could damage your liver
Too much fructose (sugar) can cause liver damage in the same way that consuming too much alcohol can, according to SugarScience.org.
That is unless you’re consuming fructose by eating fruits. The fiber in the fruit slows down sugar absorption. It’s when fructose is stripped of its fiber, and we consume it in large amounts, that it can wreak havoc.
Added sugar in large amounts puts more fructose in the liver than it can handle, notes SugarScience.org.
And the overconsumption of fructose has been linked with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.
Tips for avoiding added sugar in products
Added sugar is everywhere these days. But it’s still possible to avoid it.
For starters, “Read nutrition labels,” says DiNicolantonio. While the labels won’t tell you if sugar is added (the FDA is working on that), you can get a sense of how much added sugar is in a product by finding a “no added sugar” alternative and subtracting the total sugars from each of the products, he notes.
In addition, don’t be fooled by natural products. Things like 100% fruit juice, dried fruit, syrups (maple and agave) and honey also contain plenty of “free sugars”, which are likely just as harmful as “added sugars”, notes DiNicolantonio.
Of course, opting for a sugar free syrup like Walden Farms Pancake Syrup can be a good alternative. Just make sure to keep an eye on nutrition labels.
Sheiham adds that if you must drink juice, at least dilute it with water.
The fewer sugars you have in your diet, the better off your health will be down the line.