Here’s Why Sugary Foods & Drinks Should Be Limited
Though sugar isn’t bad for you, having too much can contribute to some major health risks.
Many people wonder why is sugar a health concern. While there’s no one food, food group, or ingredient you can blame for getting sick, gaining weight, or worse, developing a chronic disease, eating, and drinking too much added sugar can increase your risk for all these things.
There’s a difference between added sugar and sugar naturally found in food. Most foods that naturally contain sugar also contain other nutrients that are good for your health – think fiber, water, protein, dietary fats, vitamins, and minerals. Added sugar provides little nutritional benefit beyond calories and energy from carbohydrates.
The “all foods fit” mentality and eating foods you love (including those with added sugar) is good for the mind and soul. The fact of the matter remains though, eating too many calories in general is not good for the body or your health and can cause dangerous levels of blood sugar.
The average American gets around 270 calories per day from added sugar. That's the equivalent of 17 teaspoons of sugar![i] That’s well above the National Heart Associations recommendation of less than or equal to 9 grams (for men) and 6 grams (for women) of sugar per day.[ii]
5 Reasons Too Much Sugar Isn’t Good for Your Health
May Contribute to Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.[iii] Excessive sugar intake is associated with high triglycerides, high LDL-cholesterol, and high total cholesterol levels – are risk factors for heart disease.[iv]
In addition, researchers have examined the link between sugar intake and blood pressure with little resolve. The studies that saw an increase in blood pressure after consumption of fructose over a period, also found that participants also gained on average 5 pounds over the controls. That means the increase in blood pressure could have been associated with the increase in body weight, or the intake of fructose containing beverages.[v]
So what is a dangerous level of blood sugar? Research suggests limiting sugar intake to less than 10 percent of total daily calories can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and related health problems.[vi]
May Contribute to Type 2 Diabetes
Carbohydrates and high-sugar foods often take the blame for type 2 diabetes. Though added sugar is not the cause of diabetes, it does play a significant role.[vii]
Insulin regulates blood sugar levels in the body. When sugar enters the body, the pancreas releases insulin to manage levels in the bloodstream. When too much sugar enters the body, the pancreas can’t keep up and continues to push out insulin. Over time the body doesn’t respond to insulin and sugar builds up and is stored as fat cells, causing weight gain, pre-diabetes, and then diabetes.[viii]
Reducing added sugar intake could help prevent weight gain and diabetes.
May Increase Cancer Risk
Sugary beverages and high sugar intake may be associated with developing cancer.[ix]
Other studies have linked sugar to specific cancers. Additionally, some studies have linked sugar intake to increased inflammation which has also been linked to increased cancer risk.[x]
Science continues to evolve on the topic of cancer and what causes it. In the same way, research regarding sugar’s role in cancer risk is ongoing and more research is needed to understand it further.
May Contribute to Tooth Decay
Your dentist has long since warned you of the risks of sugar drinks and candy on tooth health.
Scientists have found the prevalence of dental caries is greater in those who consume greater than 10% of their total daily calorie intake from added sugar. Both the amount of sugar and the frequency of sugar consumption are risk factors for cavities.[xi]
Reducing added sugar intake, the frequency in which you consume sugar foods and drinks, and increasing regular dental care are all equally important for preventing dental caries.
Contributes to Weight Gain
Sugar intake is not the main cause of weight gain, but it sure plays a role. Foods containing added sugar tend to be highly palatable (meaning they taste amazing) yet provide little satiety compared to foods high in fiber and other nutrients. This leads to overeating those highly palatable, sugar laden foods taking in too many calories for your body and resulting in weight gain.[xii]
There’s no need to avoid added sugar altogether. However, limiting your intake can reduce your risk of obesity and related chronic disease. Instead, fill your day with nutrient dense, satisfying foods that keep you feeling fuller for longer. Include less healthy enjoyable foods here and there to prevent feelings of deprivation and disordered eating behaviors that contribute to sugar cravings.
4 Tips for Cutting Back on Added Sugar
If you’re wondering how to lower blood sugar, cutting back on added sugar is a surefire way to do it. Think about it – limiting added sugar in your diet could create a 200+ calorie deficit leading to weight loss. Even losing only 5-10% of your body weight improves health outcomes and reduces your risk of developing chronic disease as you get older. [xiii]
Try these simple ways to cut back on added sugar:
- Read Food Labels – Not all nutrition facts labels list added sugar. A good rule of thumb is to choose foods with single digit sugar on food labels. In addition, it’s important to read the ingredients list to identify hidden sugar. Choose foods with no added sugar in the nutrition facts and ingredients section including natural forms of sugar like honey, agave, syrup, and the like.
- Make Swaps – Simple food swaps can make a difference in total sugar intake at the end of the day. For example, choosing plain yogurt or oatmeal over the flavored varieties and adding your own toppings can save you from taking in too much added sugar. Avoiding foods high in sugar can go a long way to lower blood sugar.
- Opt for Zero Calorie Beverages – Sugarydrinks like juice, soda, tea, and other sweet drinks are responsible for a sizeable portion of added sugar in the American diet. Choose zero calorie beverages often to avoid excessive intake of excessive sugar and empty calories.
- Choose Healthy Sugar Alternatives - while refined sugar is usually the worst type of sugar for your health, there exist many sugar substitutes such as stevia sugar, honey, dates or maple syrup. The healthiest alternative to sugar is whole fruits as they contain nutrients and fiber as well as vitamins.
[i] Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-202: Cut Down on Added Sugars
[iii] CDC.gov: Heart Disease Facts
[iv] Bergwall S, Ramne S, Sonestedt E, Acosta S. High versus low added sugar consumption for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019 Apr 25;2019(4):CD013320. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD013320
[v] Rippe JM, Angelopoulos TJ. Sugars, obesity, and cardiovascular disease: results from recent randomized control trials. Eur J Nutr. 2016 Nov;55(Suppl 2):45-53. doi:10.1007/s00394-016-1257-2
[vi] Rippe JM, Angelopoulos TJ. Sugars, obesity, and cardiovascular disease: results from recent randomized control trials. Eur J Nutr. 2016 Nov;55(Suppl 2):45-53. doi:10.1007/s00394-016-1257-2
[vii] Rippe JM, Angelopoulos TJ. Relationship between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding. Nutrients. 2016 Nov 4;8(11):697. doi:10.3390/nu8110697
[viii] CDC.gov: Insulin Resistance and Diabetes
[ix] Laguna JC, Alegret M, Cofán M, Sánchez-Tainta A, Díaz-López A, Martínez-González MA, Sorlí JV, Salas-Salvadó J, Fitó M, Alonso-Gómez ÁM, Serra-Majem L, Lapetra J, Fiol M, Gómez-Gracia E, Pintó X, Muñoz MA, Castañer O, Ramírez-Sabio JB, Portu JJ, Estruch R, Ros E. Simple sugar intake and cancer incidence, cancer mortality and all-cause mortality: A cohort study from the PREDIMED trial. Clin Nutr. 2021 Oct;40(10):5269-5277. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2021.07.031
[x] Singh N, Baby D, Rajguru JP, Patil PB, Thakkannavar SS, Pujari VB. Inflammation and cancer. Ann Afr Med. 2019 Jul-Sep;18(3):121-126. doi:10.4103/aam.aam_56_18
[xi] Moynihan P. Sugars and Dental Caries: Evidence for Setting a Recommended Threshold for Intake. Adv Nutr. 2016 Jan 15;7(1):149-56. doi:10.3945/an.115.009365
[xii] Faruque S, Tong J, Lacmanovic V, Agbonghae C, Minaya DM, Czaja K. The Dose Makes the Poison: Sugar and Obesity in the United States - a Review. Pol J Food Nutr Sci. 2019;69(3):219-233. doi:10.31883/pjfns/110735
[xiii] The National Institute of Health: Assessing Your Weight and Health Risk