Sugars added to sodas, other drinks, and foods damage cholesterol and other blood fats, increasing risk for diabetes and heart disease. However, it’s possible to reduce your sugar load without making unrealistic sacrifices.
Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, analyzed diets of 6,113 people and found that the more added sugars they ate, the lower their “good cholesterol,” and the higher their triglycerides, blood fats that also increase risk for diabetes and heart disease at elevated levels.
Earlier research has also shown links between too much added sugar and heart disease, prompting the American Heart Association to recommend specific limits of 6 teaspoons daily for women and 9 teaspoons daily for men. The American average is more than 22 teaspoons daily.
Which Sugars are Harmful?
The health risks come from sugars that don’t occur naturally in foods but are added by manufacturers. Sugars in fresh fruits, for example, are not the problem.
The Nutrition Facts labels (the chart listing calories, protein, fats, etc.) don't separate added sugars from naturally occurring ones. The ingredients list gives you the biggest clue. Ingredients are listed by quantity, so when sugar appears early on the list, it makes up a large percentage of the contents.
“Added sugars” include sweeteners we may consider healthy. From a health perspective, it doesn’t matter whether a label lists cane sugar, beet sugar, cane juice, corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, high-fructose corn syrup, or brown rice syrup. They’re just different types of added sugars.
How to Cut Back
Soda is the chief American source of added sugars. One 12-ounce can contains 8 teaspoons -- more than the daily recommended limit for women and just short of the cap for men. If you drink it, breaking the habit can be tough, but it can be done.
Diet soda is not a good substitute. In studies, people who drank diet soda were more likely to be overweight than those who drank regular versions. Zero-calories sweeteners may increase appetite, especially for sugary foods, more so than sweeteners with calories.
These are a few ways to eat fewer added sugars:
• Choose unsweetened breakfast cereal and add your own sugar. Flavored cereals can pack 5 teaspoons of sugar per one serving, which is frequently smaller than what many people eat.
• Eat fresh fruit for dessert, in place of baked or packaged foods with overabundant amounts of added sugars.
• When buying breads, sauces, soups, and other foods that aren’t “sweet,” look for those with the least amount of sugar, and preferably none.
• If you drink soda, try unsweetened iced tea or coffee instead. Even if you add a teaspoon of real sugar, you will get far less than the usual amount in beverages sweetened by the manufacturer. A 12-ounce serving of sweetened iced tea can contain nearly 8 teaspoons of sugar -- about the same as soda.
Of course, there’s another simple alternative to soda: plain old water. But for many people, such a switch would mean making an unrealistic sacrifice.