Sugar consumption is very high among Americans, averaging about 20 teaspoons per person per day. Research shows that too much sugar in the diet can lead to many health problems. According to the American Heart Association, the maximum amount of sugar you should eat in a day is 9 teaspoons for men and 6 teaspoons for women (1).
Sugar, also called carbohydrate, is the body’s main source of energy. But there are different forms of sugar that make a difference in our health. Naturally occurring sugar in fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy contain essential minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, with a little protein and fat. Sugar alone will cause blood sugar to spike and plummet. Protein, fat, and fiber helps to keep blood sugar from spiking and maintain a steady supply of energy to the cells. High fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains actually help to reduce the risk of chronic disease by controlling blood sugar and lowering cholesterol (2).
Why sugar is unhealthy
Eating a sweet treat isn’t going to cause harm, but it’s daily over-consumption that can lead to elevated blood sugars and weight gain (3). Studies have confirmed excess sugar consumption to be associated with increased inflammation in the body, causing obesity and chronic disease, specifically heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers (4)(5).
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is sweetener made from corn that includes fructose and glucose and is added to many beverages and processed foods. Since fructose is metabolized in the liver, large amounts can cause more fat storage, fatty liver disease, and high triglycerides, which are risk factors for heart disease (6).
The immune system can be affected by high consumption of sugar and hinder the ability to fight sickness.
Research also shows a link between sugar and an increased risk of depression (7).
Other names for sugar
There are many different names used for sugar that are hidden on ingredient labels. Look for these names and limit or avoid them as much as you can.
- Corn syrup
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
- Fruit juice concentrate
- Cane juice
- Brown sugar
- Agave nectar
- Maple syrup
What foods to avoid
Soda – There is not only a ton of sugar in soda, but it also contains other ingredients that are not good for you. Sparkling water or kombucha are better low/no-sugar alternatives that are carbonated.
Fruit juices – There’s just as much sugar in fruit juice as there is in soda. Drink more water.
Baked goods – This includes pastries, donuts, cookies, and cakes. Although delicious, they are very high in sugar.
Candy – Replace with healthier sweet options like dark chocolate or berries.
Low-fat foods – These foods are often high in sugar because the fat has been removed. Use full fat options instead.
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- Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009;120(11):1011-20.
- Surampudi P, Enkhmaa B, Anuurad E, Berglund L. Lipid Lowering with Soluble Dietary Fiber. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2016;18(12):75.
- Campos C. Chronic hyperglycemia and glucose toxicity: pathology and clinical sequelae. Postgrad Med. 2012;124(6):90-7.
- Fung TT, Malik V, Rexrode KM, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sweetened beverage consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(4):1037-42.
- Larsson SC, Bergkvist L, Wolk A. Consumption of sugar and sugar-sweetened foods and the risk of pancreatic cancer in a prospective study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;84(5):1171-6.
- Ter horst KW, Serlie MJ. Fructose Consumption, Lipogenesis, and Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. Nutrients. 2017;9(9)
- Guo X, Park Y, Freedman ND, et al. Sweetened beverages, coffee, and tea and depression risk among older US adults. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(4):e94715.