Sugar not only makes you fat, it may make you sick

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In recent years, sugar — more so than fat — has been receiving the bulk of the blame for our deteriorating health.

Most of us know we consume more sugar than we should.  Let’s be honest, it’s hard not to.

The (new) bad news is that sugar does more damage to our bodies than we originally thought.  It was once considered to be just another marker for an unhealthy diet and obesity.  Now sugar is considered an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, as well as many other chronic diseases, according a study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“Sugar has adverse health effects above any purported role as ‘empty calories’ promoting obesity,” writes Laura Schmidt, a professor of health policy in the School of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, in an accompanying editorial. “Too much sugar doesn’t just make us fat; it can also make us sick.”

But how much is too much? Turns out not nearly as much as you may think.  As a few doctors and scientists have been screaming for a while now, a little bit of sugar goes a long way.

Added sugars, according to most experts, are far more harmful to our bodies than naturally-occurring sugars.  We’re talking about the sugars used in processed or prepared foods like sugar-sweetened beverages, grain-based desserts, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, candy, ready-to-eat cereal and yeast breads. Your fruits and (natural) fruit juices are safe.

Recommendations for your daily allotment of added sugar vary widely:

— The Institute of Medicine recommends that added sugars make up less than 25% of your total calories

— The World Health Organization recommends less than 10%

— The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to less than 100 calories daily for women and 150 calories daily for men

The U.S. government hasn’t issued a dietary limit for added sugars, like it has for calories, fats, sodium, etc.  Furthermore, sugar is classified by the Food and Drug administration as “generally safe,” which allows manufacturers to add unlimited amounts to any food.

“There is a difference between setting the limit for nutrients or other substances in food and setting limits for what people should be consuming,” an FDA spokesperson wrote in an e-mail to CNN. “FDA does not set limits for what people should be eating.”

“With regard to setting a regulatory limit for added sugar in food, FDA would carefully consider scientific evidence in determining whether regulatory limits are needed, as it would for other substances in food.”

There is some good news. While the mean percentage of calories consumed from added sugars increased from 15.7% in 1988-1994 to 16.8% in 1999-2004, it actually decreased to 14.9% between 2005 and 2010. But most adults still consumed 10% or more of their calories from added sugar and about 1 in 10 people consumed 25% or more of their calories from sugar during the same time period.

Participants in the study who consumed approximately 17 to 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, compared with those who consumed approximately 8% of calories from added sugar, the study authors concluded.

“This relative risk was more than double for those who consumed 21% or more of calories from added sugar,” they wrote.

Schmidt writes that these new findings “provide physicians and consumers with actionable guidance. Until federal guidelines are forthcoming, physicians may want to caution patients that, to support cardiovascular health, it’s safest to consume less than 15% of their daily calories from added sugar.”

That’s the equivalent, Schmidt points out, of drinking one 20-ounce Mountain Dew soda in a 2,000-calorie diet.

“From there, the risk rises exponentially as a function of increased sugar intake,” she writes.

Despite our changing scientific understanding and a growing body of evidence on sugar overconsumption as an independent risk factor in chronic disease, sugar regulation remains an uphill battle in the United States.  This is contrasted by the increased frequency of regulation abroad, where 15 countries now have taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages.

“‘Sin taxes,’ whether on tobacco, alcohol, or sugar-laden products, are popular because they are easy to enforce and generate revenue, with a well-documented evidence base supporting their effectiveness for lowering consumption,” writes Schmidt.

But forget about the short-term monetary cost.  Before you reach for that next sugary treat, think long and hard about the long-term cost to your health.

TM & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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4 comments

  • ted

    Tell them the truth. The sugar they are talking about is high fructose corn syrup which has been banned by several countries because of health problems. This story is not about real pure cane sugar but about the fake crap they want us to think is sugar.

  • annoyed citizen

    And dont believe for one second that sucralose(splenda) is at all a good substitute! They came across it in a lab while searching for a new pesticide! Congrats on being misinformed

  • Dan Wipper

    Hmm, how can I believe an article who's headline is not written properly? Sugar wars have been going on for a long time and its an interesting subject. The natural sources we choose are not too important. Sucrose vs. fructose maybe more important as the later is less sweet and we tend to use more. Natural sources including; corn, cane, beets, maple, honey and all other natural sources vs. any artificial sweeteners should be our biggest concern. Stick with natural sources and use them in moderation. Soda is where people tend too abuse intake quantities the most. As for the war; maple producers shamed cane when it came around and now they both rip on corn. If a quantitative new source comes along rest assured they will all rip on it. Important to know that natural sugars are not "bad" as this article might suggest, they are not toxic and should represent a small portion of our diet.

  • Trish

    I agree…….the fake stuff is far worse and let's face it……everything is bad for you when taken out of moderation……..we are a super size, fat, nation and we can only blame ourselves…….stop blaming everythign and everyone else………if this dont get ya………the polution will…………welcome to technology and the future