There’s no way to argue against it: consuming too much sugar is bad for your health. It’s bad for your brain, it’s bad for your pancreas, it’s bad for your waistline and perhaps worst of all, it’s bad for your heart.
Whether you feel like this particular nutrition topic has been beaten to death or you’re only just learning about the negative effects associated with a diet high in sugar, the results of a recent study may still come as an eye-opening surprise.
For some time doctors have presumed that consuming excessive amounts of sugar is associated with an increased risk for heart disease because of the effect that sugar has on weight, blood pressure, insulin and triglyceride levels.
However, this new study from the University of California, Davis— which found that consumption of sugary drinks, even for just two weeks, may greatly increase risk factors associated with heart disease—was the first to demonstrate a “dose-dependent relationship” between the consumption of sugar (particularly in the form of high-fructose corn syrup) and heart disease.
In other words, the researchers were specifically able to identify how much sugar can produce negative health outcomes, and their data shows that it's not much at all.
The study included 85 men and women ranging from 18 to 40 years old and took place over the course of 15 days. The participants were placed in one of four groups which consumed drinks sweetened with amounts of high-fructose corn syrup equal to zero, 10, 17.5 or 25 percent of their total daily caloric intake. (Drinks for the “zero-percent” control group were sweetened with an artificial sweetener called aspartame.)
The study’s authors drew hourly blood readings from participants at the beginning and end of the study in order to measure changes in levels of lipoproteins, triglycerides and uric acid, which are all considered indicators of an increased risk for heart disease.
The results showed that these risk factors increased as the doses of high-fructose corn syrup increased, indicating that the more added sugar we consume (especially when it comes from high-fructose corn syrup) the more at risk we are for dying from heart disease.
The researchers found that even the study participants given the 10-percent dose showed an increase in lipoprotein and triglyceride levels when compared with their measurements at the beginning of the study.
They also found that compared to women, the increase in risk factors were greater in men and were independent of body weight gain.
In other words, men may be at an even greater risk and even if you don’t tend to gain weight as a result of consuming high-sugar foods and drinks, it doesn’t mean you’re not at risk.
The bottom line: consuming sugary drinks and other forms of added sugar has a profound effect on our health, even over a short period of time—this particular study yielded significant results in just two weeks.
In particular, our heart health is at risk. This is important to note because cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and around the world.
Experts believe that many people underestimate their added sugar intake, especially because it’s commonly included in so many unsuspecting foods.
The Journal of American Medical Association estimates that the average American consumes about 88 grams of added sugar every day, an amount that far surpasses the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 37.5 grams per day for men and 25 grams per day for women.
How can you make sure you’re not going overboard?
First, it’s a good idea to limit or completely cut out soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages. And secondly, make sure to read nutrition labels. Packaged foods will indicate how much sugar they contain on the label directly under the carbohydrate section.
You can also determine whether or not a particular product has added sugar (as opposed to naturally occurring sugars like in fruit or milk) by reading the ingredients. If there’s added sugar in the product, the ingredient list will include “sugar.”
However, be on the lookout for sugar in disguise, because food manufacturers know that consumers are becoming more vigilant about added sugars they have begun to label it under other names such as corn syrup, barley malt, rice syrup or evaporated cane juice, just to name a few examples.