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The Perils of Too Much Sugar

Why we should reduce our sugar intake, and how stevia, a no-calorie sugar substitute, can help.

| October/November 2006

  • too much sugar - boy at table pouring sugar on grapefruit half
    Americans eat too much sugar and could stand to reduce their intake.
    Photo courtesy of Image Source/Getty Images
  • too much sugar - stevia plant
    Stevia is a natural sweetener you can easily grow in your own garden.
    Judy White/
  • too much sugar - sugar consumption graph
    Decade by decade consumption of added sweeteners (sugar & corn syrup).

  • too much sugar - boy at table pouring sugar on grapefruit half
  • too much sugar - stevia plant
  • too much sugar - sugar consumption graph
October/November 2006 Issue #218
By Lynn Keiley and Stephanie Bloyd

Ever wonder why they put those racks of candy bars right next to the checkout counters in grocery stores? It’s not much of a mystery really — few of us can resist the siren song of a sweet treat to eat on the way home. We succumb fairly often, and it shows: our nation is getting progressively fatter. The effect has been most devastating on kids — the prevalence of childhood obesity increased 100 percent between 1980 and 1994.

It’s not just candy bars, either. Thanks in part to increasing production of cheap high fructose corn syrup, food producers tempt our taste buds by adding sugars to just about everything. The result is that each American consumes more than 152 pounds of added sugar each year — in addition to the natural sugars we ingest from foods such as fruit. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that’s about 40 pounds more per person than we ate just 50 years ago! Though we should limit added sugar intake to 10 teaspoons (160 calories) or less per day, the average American eats at least twice that. Many teenagers eat up to 35 teaspoons of sugar per day!

Sugar & Your Body

“Sugar contributes empty carbohydrate calories, which Americans certainly don’t need,” says Walter Willett, M.D., chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. “We are ingesting too many calories in general.” Excessive weight gain can lead to obesity, which is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease because it adversely affects cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as blood pressure and blood glucose levels, according to the American Heart Association.

“Our high intake of sugars and refined starches increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease, even after accounting for their effects on weight,” Willett says.

It’s also important to consider what you could be eating instead of high-sugar foods. Added sugars have virtually no nutritional value. They’re no substitute for whole foods that are rich in vitamins and nutrients.

Sugar consumption also increases your risk for tooth decay in the form of dental caries — the erosion of tooth enamel caused by bacteria that morph sugars into acids. Sticky, high-sugar foods, such as caramel, are some of the worst offenders for dental caries, because they stick to teeth and feed bacteria. Bacteria also use sugars to make plaque, which adheres the bacteria to teeth and reduces saliva’s acid-neutralizing effects.

8/4/2008 1:03:12 PM

Another sweetener worth mentioning is agave nectar, a thick sweet syrup like honey. It has a much lower glycemic index than sugar, which means it doesn't make the blood sugar spike, or have as many calories. Tastes great over cereal or in beverages! Its available in most health food or natural grocery stores now in a squeeze-top bottle.

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