Americans consume dangerous quantities of sugar every day, and according The American Heart Association, it’s increasing their risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD). While the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to less than 100 to 150 calories daily, most U.S. adults consume two to three times as much—usually in the form of refined sugars and corn syrups added to processed foods such as sugar-sweetened beverages and baked goods.
In a recent study, Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examined national health survey data in search of a connection between added sugar consumption and CVD risk factors. In the process, they determined that 71.4 percent of adults consume 10 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugar. Ten percent consume 25 percent or more of their daily calories in added sugar. This means that if subjects are consuming 2,000 calories each day, 500 of those are in the form of added sugar. That’s equivalent to 31 teaspoons of the sweet stuff.
The researchers found the connection they were looking for, as the data showed a direct correlation between risk of death from CVD and percentage of added sugar calories in subjects’ diets. In fact, as few as seven servings of sugar-sweetened beverages each week doubled a subject’s risk of CVD death.
Recommendations for added sugar consumption vary. The American Heart Association suggests women limit their intake of added sugars to 100 calories a day. Men can have 150 calories each day from added sugars. That’s equivalent to six and nine teaspoons respectively. The World Health Organization is a bit more generous to those with a sweet tooth. They advise that no more than 10 percent of your daily calories should come from added sugars. If you’re on a 1,500-calorie diet that means limiting your consumption to 150 sugar calories—about that found in one 12-ounce sugar-sweetened soda.
Reducing Your Added Sugar Consumption
The first step for reducing your consumption of added sugars is to read the labels on any processed foods you eat—and that includes everything from condiments to canned soups to cookies to lunch meats. Keep in mind, sugar has many names. You’ll want to limit your use of foods that include maltose, sucrose, fructose, corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar or fruit juice concentrates in their list of ingredients. You’ll also want to consider the total grams of sugar contained in one serving. Four grams is equivalent to one teaspoon.
Once you’ve learned to identify sugar by its many names, and calculate the number of teaspoons a serving contains, do the following to reduce the number of sugar calories you ingest each day:
- Whenever possible, limit the number of processed foods you eat, especially those that are high in sugar such as baked goods and desserts, candy, soda and fruit juice drinks.
- When you must consume processed foods, choose a brand with lower added sugar.
- When cooking or baking, reduce the quantity of sugar in your recipe by half or replace it with an artificial sweetener. You can substitute unsweetened applesauce for sugar in many recipes.
- Swap sugar-sweetened sodas for low-calorie or sugar-free drinks.
- For breakfast, try unsweetened cereal, oatmeal and yogurt with fresh fruit or fruit canned in water. Avoid fruit canned or frozen in syrup.
Cardiovascular disease—also known as heart disease—is the leading cause of death in the U.S. according to the CDC. About 600,000 people die of CVD every year. While the study cited above found a direct correlation between excessive added sugar consumption and the risk factors for heart disease, sugar contributes to other health issues—like poor nutrition and tooth decay—as well. Think about the dangers before you take a bite of your next donut or sip of sugar-sweetened soda—it might (eventually) kill you.