Our love affair with sugars is undeniable, as each of us is likely to consume at least 150 pounds of added sugar this year alone! Compare that to the 1800s when the average daily sugar intake only added up to 2 pounds per year. Just within the past 30 to 40 years, our sugar consumption has increased by more than 25 pounds per year, which helps explain why rates of obesity and diabetes have skyrocketed.
The American Heart Association has been so concerned about this alarming trend that they recently recommended that women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar, or about 100 calories a day, and men consume no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar, or 150 calories a day.
Most added sugars come from soft drinks, processed foods and condiments (especially ketchup), but reducing our daily sugar intake isn’t as easy as simply eliminating those foods. There are several misconceptions about added sugars for which my patients commonly request clarification. Here are the top three…
MISCONCEPTION ONE: All Sugars Are Created Equal.
Many think a teaspoon of added sugar is the same as sugar from natural sources, such as that found in lemons. The answer is yes in terms of the number of calories, but the sugar sources (and what each type offers our bodies) are different. In contrast to the heart healthy vitamins, minerals and potent antioxidants found in lemons – such as hesperetin and liminoids – added sugars are totally empty calories with no nutritional value. In other words, the only thing that added sugars truly add is an increase to our waistline that an adversely affect heart health over time.
Many natural juices do not contain any added sugars. As a result, potential health benefits include favorable effects on risk factors for heart disease such as blood pressure, cholesterol and overall vascular health.
I recommend that my patients aim for products that contain 5 grams or less of “added sugar” per serving. As current labeling practices don’t allow consumers to differentiate between natural and added sugars, we’re looking forward to new breakthrough labeling measures that will help all of us to choose better products with the right kinds of heart healthy sugars in them.
MISCONCEPTION TWO: Food Labels Are Transparent.
It’s fair to assume that food labels reliably tell us the amount of added sugar in a product. The truth is, today’s food labels fall short of that objective by only stating the total number of sugar calories. The good news, however, is that food labels are all set to change by July 2018, when companies will be required to provide not only the total sugar content, but also the quantity and percent of the recommended daily amount of added sugars per serving. This is important because the American Heart Association recommends that no more than 10% of daily calories come from added sugar. These new labels will allow for better monitoring our daily sugar intake.
MISCONCEPTION THREE: Fructose is the Enemy.
People often assume that all sugars are equal with respect to heart health. Fructose is a natural sugar found in agave, honey, pears, dates and other fruits. Consuming natural fructose containing foods has no adverse effect on health because the total amount of fructose is relatively modest (less than 50 grams) – unless of course you are binging on a dozen or more pears each day and coat all of your foods with honey or agave.
The problem occurs when the amount of high fructose corn syrup exceeds 100 grams daily, which is the equivalent of 4 12-ounce cans of cola. In my practice, this is not an unusual occurrence. Unfortunately, very high amounts of fructose cannot be effectively processed resulting in high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in blood, a fatty liver and eventual heart disease. As it turns out, fructose in high quantities may be more harmful to the heart than table sugar (sucrose) or milk sugar (lactose).
This post was originally published on The Chalkboard Magazine.