Sugar and Your Health
Long Term Risks of Too Much Sugar
Too much sugar in your diet may be affecting you in ways you haven't even thought of. It's in so many products we eat every day, many people don't even realize how much they're taking in. Consider this historical comparison.
In 1822, sugar was a luxury. The average American ate just 9 grams of sugar a day. Then two huge changes took place. The agricultural revolution dropped the price of food and modern transportation systems evolved to make everything we could dream of available in our local grocery store.
By 2013, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated we've increased our sugar consumption to over 94 grams a day or an additional 332 calories. Keep in mind that's just from sugar products and it doesn't count the sugar found in fruits or vegetables. Some estimates show total sugar consumption in the United States at between 100 and 130 POUNDS per person a year.
Eating all those extra calories is having a devastating effect on our health. As often as I've told people that, they don't seem to understand what it really means. So I'd like to describe a few of the ways all that sugar may be affecting you right now.
Weight & Cancer
If you assume we were just as active as our parents or grandparents, and that nothing else in our diet had changed, eating an extra 332 calories a day would help you pack on an additional 3 pounds a month. That's how many calories we're eating extra every day because of our increased sugar intake. But obesity isn't the only result.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 30% of all cancers in developed countries are the result of diet and nutrition. In the report, "Global Cancer Facts and Figures" the American Cancer Society said that in North America alone, 1,745,375 people were diagnosed with cancer in 2007.
That means in one year, 30%, or 523,612 people in the United States got cancer as a result of their poor diet! Suddenly sugar doesn't seem so harmless. But there's more.
We've known since the late 1960s and early 1970s from studies done by Yudkin and colleagues that people who consumed more sugar were at an increased risk of heart disease. Now reports from the recent Nurses' Health Study show that women who consume diets with a high glycemic load (high in simple sugars) are at an increased risk of cardiovascular heart disease. Women who are in the top 20% of sugar consumption had twice the risk of heart disease during the study's 10 year follow up.
Short-term studies regularly show that people who eat high levels of sugar, experience adverse triglyceride levels which can lead to plaque buildup on artery walls and an increased risk of heart attack.
In a study published on April 24th, 2013, in the journal Diabetologia, researchers made a frightening connection between sugar-filled sodas and diabetes. Researchers looked at 27,000 people and found that those who drank a single regular 12 oz. Coke and it's nearly 40 grams of sugar were 18 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes over a 16-year period compared with those who did not drink soda.
Increase that to two sodas a day and you're 18 percent more likely to have a stroke than people who drink only one. The risks continue to increase dramatically with each additional soda people drink daily. Those results line up nicely with results from earlier studies carried out in the United States. The increase in diabetes cases isn't difficult to understand, it's simply the result of more sugar in our diets. And there's more.
Brain and Mood
The amount of sugar found in a single can of regular soda provides a quick energy burst. But, people who are monitored in experiments report after an hour that they have less energy and feel more upset or stressed than before the drink.
Subjects who ate balanced snacks of protein, fat and carbs were much more likely to avoid mood swings and reported more energy an hour after than the sugar drinkers.
For the next 10 days, count how many grams of sugar you're consuming. The easiest way is on your computer or smartphone with programs like (our favorite) MyFitnessPal, CalorieKing or SparkPeople.
After the 10 days are over, if you're taking in too much sugar, look at ways of reducing it. Find out what's pushing your numbers over the top and replace them with lower-sugar options. You'll look better, feel better and probably live longer if you do.
Since we wrote this article, several studies have come out showing additional dangers from too much sugar. Two of the larger ones are covered below.
Vasanti S. Malik , Yanping Li , An Pan , Lawrence De Koning , Eva Schernhammer , Walter C. Willett , Frank B. Hu
“After adjusting for major diet and lifestyle factors, consumption of sugar sweetened beverages was associated with a higher risk of total mortality;”
People who drank two or more sugar-sweetened drinks a day were 31% more likely to die from cardiovascular issues; and 28% more likely to die in general; than people who rarely if ever drank them.
Study Information can be found here: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.037401
Association of Sugary Beverage Consumption With Mortality Risk in US Adults - A Secondary Analysis of Data From the REGARDS Study - JAMA Netw Open. Published in 2019;2(5):e193121. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.3121
Lindsay J. Collin, MPH1; Suzanne Judd, PhD2; Monika Safford, MD, PhD3; et al
“In this cohort study of 13 440 black and white adults 45 years and older observed for a mean of 6.0 years, each additional 12-oz serving/d of sugary beverages was associated with an 11% higher all-cause mortality risk, and each additional 12-oz serving/d of fruit juice was associated with a 24% higher all-cause mortality risk.”
Drinking any sugary beverage, from sugar-sweetened sodas to naturally sweet fruit juice can raise the risk of death by as much as 44 percent. The source of the sugar doesn't matter, it's the quantity that's deadly.
The study also found the artificial sweeteners did not elevate the risk factors in any of the studies. A far lower risk was associated with sugars found in whole foods like whole fruits, vegetables and milk. This leads us to remind people of something we've said for years. Eat your calories, don't drink them.
Study information can be found here: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2733424
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