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Volume 38, No. 2

Sweetest Day

Significant role in Cancer, Heart Disease and more

There’s nothing sweet about how much sugar  people consume every day. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the average adult in the United States takes in 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, or a whopping 150 pounds a year, while teens pile in 34 teaspoons a day. That’s more than twice the amount of sugar we should be eating.

“The average American is basically overdosing on sugar,” says Connie Bennett, author of Sugar Shock!, who believes that the AHA’s estimates of sugar consumption are conservative, and it’s closer to 50 teaspoons of added sugar a day.

The amount is shocking, and the potential health effects of excess sugar consumption are even scarier. Mounting evidence suggests that flooding your system with the sweet stuff can play a role in obesity, heart disease, and cancer. It can also impact how you look or feel, doing damage to your skin or altering your mood.

Following a High-Glycemic Diet May Cause Acne - While dermatologists and other experts have debated whether greasy french fries and chocolate cause breakouts, some truth has been found that backs the old wives’ tale. According to a 2008 study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, what you eat can affect your skin. The study’s Australian researchers measured the effects of high- and low-glycemic diets on the skin of teenage boys. The glycemic index of a food defines how quickly it’s broken down into glucose by the body. High-glycemic foods, such as refined carbs, sugary drinks, and even certain fruits high in natural sugars, cause large spikes in blood sugar when eaten. Low-glycemic foods, such as whole grains, are broken down into sugars more slowly, so they do not cause spikes in blood sugar. The researchers found that those who were on the low-glycemic diet experienced a 50% reduction in acne, while those who ate the high-glycemic diet experienced a 14% increase. Researchers speculate that insulin resistance—commonly associated with eating a high-glycemic diet—may fuel inflammation and the production of the acne-causing oil sebum.

A Diet Rich in Sugar Can Hurt Your Heart - Eating an excessive amount of fat isn’t the only thing that increases your risk of heart disease. Mounting evidence suggests that sugar plays a direct role on the health of your ticker. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who took in more than 17.5% of their calories from added sugars were 20 to 30% more likely to have high levels of triglycerides, a type of fat that’s found in your blood. When you consume more sugar than you need for energy, the excess sugars form triglycerides, which are then stored in fat cells.

The same study found that people who got 25% or more of their calories from added sugars were more than 3 times more likely to have low levels of HDL (the good cholesterol that helps prevent plaque buildup by carrying cholesterol from your arteries to your liver where it is then excreted) than those whose diets included less than 5% sugar. Both high triglycerides and low HDL levels contribute to atherosclerosis—the hardening of your arteries—a condition that increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and heart attack.

The case against sugar is so compelling that, in 2009, the AHA released guidelines suggesting people limit intake. Women should eat less than 6 teaspoons a day; men are to keep their intake to 9 teaspoons.

Sugar May Increase Your Risk of Cancer - “The sugar-cancer connection is compelling and scary,” says Bennett, pointing to in vitro studies that show cancer cells feed on sugar to fuel their growth and proliferation. “Researchers call them ‘glucose guzzlers.’” While it’s not proven that sugar fuels cancer growth in the body, we do know that obesity—a likely effect of eating too much sugar—increases your risk of developing a number of cancers, and that both sugar and insulin fuel cancer-cell growth.

A number of studies indicate a strong relationship between sugar consumption and an increased risk of cancer. For instance, University of Minnesota researchers looked at more than 60,000 patients over 14 years and found that people who drank two or more soft drinks a week had an 87% higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. University of Buffalo researchers found that diabetic women had a 39% increased risk of developing breast cancer over those with a fasting glucose level below 100 mg/dl. That is, women with the highest blood sugar levels were much more likely to have breast cancer than those with the lowest levels.


Rodale Press

For informational purposes only - not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor an endorsement by the American Nutrition Association®. Use permitted for non-profit and non-commercial uses or by healthcare professionals in their practice, with attribution to www.AmericanNutritionAssociation.org. Other use only with written ANA℠ permission. Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ANA℠. Works by a listed author subject to copyrights as marked. © 2010 ANA℠