For decades there has been a debate on if the regular consumption of sugar is bad for you. This article will explore and summarize the data and conclusions from several studies that have been conducted on this matter.
A study on sugar found that a low-energy diet with added sucrose (sugar) was not associated with an increase in diabetes as was previously thought.
Another meta-analysis of existing studies suggests that there is no evidence to support the idea that excess fructose consumption is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Meta-Analysis: Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Drinks and Risk of Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Diseases Meta-Analysis: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Consumption and Risk of Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
Sugar… Is it Bad for You or Not?
The simple answer is that it depends on the amount of sugar you consume and the source of your dietary sugar. There are two types of sugar, monosaccharides, and disaccharides.
Monosaccharides are simple sugars only consisting of one molecule, while disaccharides are sugars consisting of two molecules (glucose + fructose or glucose + galactose).
Sugar is not inherently bad for you, but too much sugar can be harmful. However, as long as you stick to recommended daily amounts and eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables you can enjoy sugar with no worries.
What’s the Problem?
Everyone knows that eating too much sugar isn’t good for them; however, there has been a debate on if excess consumption actually leads to health problems such as diabetes and obesity. The studies below will help shed some light on this issue.
A meta-analysis of existing studies suggests that there is no evidence to support the idea that excess fructose consumption is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This study also shows that there is no association between fructose consumption and risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as blood pressure levels or triglyceride levels when comparing normal weight and overweight individuals.
These findings may help dispel the notion that all sugars are equally unhealthy because excessive fructose intake has only been associated with cardiometabolic risks in overweight/obese individuals (Bray et al., 2004).
More recently, a meta-analysis published in 2016 reviewed data from over 20 studies conducted between 2001-2015 to determine if replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates (particularly refined starches) led to fewer deaths or heart attacks (Hooper et al., 2016). Their conclusion was that replacement did lead to better health outcomes; however, the data showed no significant difference between saturated fats and refined carbohydrates when compared head-to-head (Hooper et al., 2016).
They also found that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat did reduce mortality rates from heart disease by 19%! This finding further supports an anti-inflammatory diet rich in plant foods including fatty plants like avocados, nuts/seeds, whole grains & legumes (Hooper et al., 2016). In other words: Cutting out butter spreads & using olive oil instead may improve your heart health!
SUGAR AND HEALTH: OVERVIEW
Sugar is found in almost every food that you eat. It is also added to foods that do not naturally contain it. Our food supply contains more sugar today than at any time in history. This is not only because of our increased consumption but also because of the way sugar is processed and added to foods before they leave the factory; it has an estimated 10% efficiency due to losses during processing. The body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which provides your body with energy. The brain requires glucose from carbohydrates for proper functioning. Carbohydrates should provide 45% of total calories consumed, according to the Food Pyramid and USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Since there are many types of carbohydrates, including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, it would make sense that we could consume plenty of carbohydrates without consuming so much added sugar as we do now. However, when you look at how much added sugar consumers actually consume (see below), it becomes clear that this is not the case! We are eating too much added sugar!
Added Sugars – According to USDA data, consumers were consuming about 61 pounds of caloric sweeteners per year per capita (Body Weight). These included both natural sugars such as cane and beet sugars as well as refined sugars such as table sugars or high fructose corn syrup.
For example: In a 2,000 calorie diet: 61 pounds x 365 days = 22 tons per year! That’s over 8 times what we should be eating according to USDA guidelines! In 1994-1996: Sugars were the #2 source of calories behind fats (52%), providing an average of 17% calories per total diet. Fats were from animal sources providing 11-12% calories while fats coming from vegetable oils provided only 1%. Fats contributed 35% calories per day while carbs contributed 44%. As a result, we have an overabundance of “energy-dense” foods that are high in fat since fats provide twice the calories for their weight compared to other macronutrients such as protein or carbohydrate. This has led many researchers to conclude that Americans overeat because they eat too much fat!! And yet obesity rates continue to rise! Shouldn’t this be setting off alarm bells?
Sugar was responsible for 17 pounds (7 kg) per person per year based on USDA estimates alone. That means if you ate 2200 kcal/day – which is a moderate amount – your daily consumption would be about 34 grams or ~3 teaspoons/day! Overweight children were eating 43 grams (~5 teaspoons) daily!
Sugar was present in 77% of all packaged foods sold each year; half of these contained two or more forms of sugar – mainly high fructose corn syrup or table sugar but also honey and molasses when those items were present…and those are just natural sugars!! More than one-fifth contained three types of sugars!! And more than one-tenth contained four types!!
Packaged Foods Containing High Fructose Corn Syrup
A 2003 study by Drs. Sievenpiper & Wang – published in Journal American Medical Association – found that 74 percent (~10 out 12) common brands surveyed contained HFCS; some even had HFCS as one ingredient among two dozen others…contrary to industry claims about transparency…most likely due to cost savings by manufacturers who can use less expensive HFCS instead of sucrose while still maintaining taste consistency!
What About Whole Grains?
Whole grains are considered healthier than white refined grains because they still have fiber attached to them whereas refined wheat flour has its fiber removed during processing so our intestines don’t recognize it as food so there’s no signal telling us when we’re full after consuming wheat products containing only white flour…but isn’t wheat flour still just another form of carb? Yes but whole grains have been associated with reduced risk for heart disease which makes sense since fiber slows digestion and keeps blood glucose levels steady….meaning people won’t get hungry sooner after eating whole-grain bread compared with white bread….plus whole-grain bread won’t raise cholesterol levels like white bread does….all good things….. But what about adding back grains like wheat flour into baked goods once they’ve been removed because consumers couldn’t tolerate them? Even though these products will have added fiber back through processing which helps regulate blood glucose levels…do they really need this added fiber back? Is this addition necessary? Are these products really healthier than their original counterparts without extra processing? You decide!!!
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Sources: US Department Of Agriculture National Nutrient Database For Standard Reference.
US Dept Of Health & Human Services Centers For Disease Control & Prevention
USDA Economic Research Service — “USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference” — “National Vital Statistics Reports” — (“Births Final Data,” Vol 47 No 13 Supplement)