National Sugar Week
January 18–24th marks National Sugar Awareness Week. Despite being the brain and body’s preferred source of fuel, excessive sugar consumption is associated with increased risk for a variety of chronic diseases and is one of the world’s greatest health concerns. In celebration of National Sugar Awareness Week, Prime Meridian Healthcare is here to educate about the sweet substance that is important to meet your energy needs, but can become a serious health problem if consumed in excess.
What Is Sugar?
Sugar is naturally occurring in fruits, vegetables, and even nuts and seeds, and is the energy source that your body is most efficient at using because most forms contain glucose, the preferred source of fuel for your brain, organs, and muscles. All plants naturally produce sugar (technically, sucrose), transforming sunlight into energy through a process known as photosynthesis. Chemically, sucrose is very simple, composed of just two bonded molecules: glucose and fructose, two of the three building blocks of all carbohydrates (galactose being the third). Carbohydrates are categorized by the number of sugars that are bound together to create them.
Composed of two linked monosaccharides: sucrose, lactose, and maltose
Containing a single molecule of glucose, fructose, or galactose
Composed of at least 10 monosaccharides linked together: starch
The more “complex” the carbohydrate, the longer it takes your body to break down and use for energy. “Simple sugars” (monosaccharides and disaccharides) quickly raise blood glucose levels—unless counterbalanced by fiber, as in natural fruits and vegetables—which is great if you need a quick energy boost, but otherwise bad for glycemic control and overall health (1). Complex carbohydrates are not necessarily better for health, as the category does include the highly refined starches found in processed grain products.
As is the general nutritional rule of thumb, when it comes to sugar, the closer to its natural whole food source, the better. Fruits and vegetables may contain high amounts of simple sugars but promote health, while a bowl of breakfast cereal contains high amounts of complex carbohydrates but takes away from health. When it comes to dietary recommendations, it is “added sugar” (the sugar added to processed food) that is primarily focused on. Examples of added sugar are high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, brown rice syrup, molasses, and dehydrated cane juice. These are things you are likely to find on the ingredient list of a processed food product. Current recommendations suggest that a healthy diet contains less than 10% of total calories from added sugar (2).
Consumption of sugar has increased dramatically over the last century, coinciding with significant increases in lifestyle related diseases such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Here are some statistics that should provide insight into the scope of the current problem:
According to the Diabetes Council, the United States ranks first in per capita sugar consumption, with the average American consuming 126 grams of sugar per day (or about 5/8 of a cup) (3).
While current guidelines recommend that added sugars represent <10% of our total caloric intake, most American’s average nearly twice that amount (4).
Research has consistently found a strong association between sugar intake and obesity risk, and as little as a 5% increase in average sugar intake may promote weight gain (5).
Longitudinal research has found that those who consume more than 25% of their daily calories in the form of added sugar have more than twice the risk of dying from heart disease (6).
There is evidence that dietary sugar increases biomarkers of cellular aging. Research has shown that those who consume excess sugar (primarily in the form of sugary drinks) have significantly shorter telomeres (nucleotide sequences that protect the end of chromosomes) than those who consume less sugar (7).
Meta-analysis of the current research suggests that regularly consuming beverages with added sugar is associated with significant increases in risk for developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes (10).
Research has confirmed that high consumption of added sugar increases depression risk and is deleterious to long-term psychological health (11).
We need a certain amount of sugar for optimal brain and body function, but excessive sugar consumption is one of the primary markers of poor physical and mental health. Monitoring added sugar intake should be a priority for anybody looking to make healthy life changes.
Limit Added Sugar Intake
While the USDA provides general guidelines, there is not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to sugar consumption. Men can generally consume more sugar than women can without experiencing adverse consequences, highly active athletes need more sugar for energy demands than sedentary individuals do, and excessive consumption becomes a greater health risk with age. Therefore, the key is to track how much you are consuming and how it makes you feel, and get most of your sugar from whole food sources. This means filling your plate with whole vegetables and fruit, while limiting:
Intake of sugar-rich beverages, including fruit juice.
Consumption of candies, sweets, and baked goods.
Canned fruits and vegetables (which generally include added sugars).
Low-fat foods, which often replace fat with added sugars.
While your body craves sugar to fuel energy demands, added sugar may be the single worst component of the modern diet, providing energy without nutrition, and harming your metabolism and overall long-term health. Talk to your Prime Meridian Healthcare provider about developing a dietary plan that includes sugar from whole food sources that can promote progress towards your health goals.
Added Sugar Consumption and Chronic Disease
Rippe J. and Angelopoulos T.
Added Sugars Intake of US Children and Adults
Powell E., et al.
Soda and Cell Aging: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Leukocyte Telomere Length
Leung C., et al.
Sugar Sweetened Beverages and Type 2 Diabetes
Malik V., et al.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans
US Department of Agriculture
Dietary Sugars and Body Weight
Te Morenga L., et al.
Increased Fructose Consumption and Fibrosis Severity
Abdelmalek M., et al.
Sugar Intake From Sweet Foods and Beverages and Depression
Knuppel A., et al.
American’s Sugar Consumption and Effects of Sugar on Health
Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Disease
Yang Q., et al.
Dietary Sugar and Pancreatic Cancer Risk
Michaud D., et al.