The medical community has new reason to be sour on sugar. Last month, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that added sugar is an independent risk factor in heart disease. The higher a person’s percentage of calories from added sugar, the higher the risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD).
This was the first national study to link overconsumption of added sugar with heart disease mortality. “Under the old paradigm, it was assumed to be a marker for unhealthy diet or obesity,” Laura A. Schmidt, of the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, wrote in a commentary accompanying the study. “Too much sugar does not just make us fat; it can also make us sick.”
How much is too much? According to the study:
- CVD mortality risk goes up if added sugar is more than 15 percent of your daily calories.
- People whose added sugar was 17-21 percent of their daily calories had a 38 percent higher risk of CVD mortality.
- When added sugar was more than 25 percent of their daily calories, their risk was almost tripled.
To be clear, the study refers to added sugars that are found in processed foods and sodas, not naturally occurring sugar, like that found in fruit. Major culprits of added sugar include soda, cereals, sports drinks and candy. Even some yogurts are loaded with sugar.
A challenge for consumers is that the FDA has yet to establish national dietary limits on added sugar, as it does with trans fats, sodium and more. Since it’s on the “generally regarded as safe list,” manufacturers can add as much as they want.
The American Heart Association, however, recommends that women should have no more than 6 teaspoons (or 100 calories) of added sugar a day, while men should cap their limit at 9 teaspoons (or 150 calories). The average American consumes about 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day.
So what changes can you make to your diet? “It’s definitely good to start looking at nutrition label,” says Caroline Lazur, a registered dietician with Capital Health’s Metabolic and Weight Loss Center. Since nutrition labels don’t specify the amount of added sugar the First Lady is working on that—look to see where sugar falls in the list of ingredients. In addition, food makers often use several different sweeteners beyond table sugar, so look for ingredients like corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, and fruit juice concentrates.
Lazur also recommends watching little things like sauces and condiments, and if you insist on drinking soda, opt for a diet variety.