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Can Sugar Hurt You?

Ted was a 45-year-old man in good health. He ran daily and lifted weights several times a week. He ate a balanced diet, even the veggies many of us forget. He limited chocolate and other desserts. Yet in the past few years, he said, “a spare tire has been slowly ‘inflating’ in my gut. Abdominal exercises don’t help.”

Is this just middle age? Or could there be something he’s doing wrong without even realizing it?

For decades, we’ve been told to lower our fat intake. The food industry complied. But removing fat removes flavor. To compensate, the food industry added a lot more sugar. At the same time, our appetite for convenience foods grew. The result: We’re consuming way more sugar than ever before. More than is good for us. Consider the following:

Obesity: 35.7% of American adults are now obese, which means they weigh 30% more than normal for their height. Increased sugar consumption plays a role. [More sugar intake = more obesity]
Diabetes: Type II diabetes is at epidemic proportions. It’s more common in overweight people. [More obesity = more diabetes]
Cancer: Recent research shows that some cancers have insulin receptors. Insulin may attach to these receptors and let blood sugar enter, feeding the cancer. When we consume sugar, insulin is naturally produced. If we consume large amounts of sugar, more insulin becomes available to attach and feed the cancer. And type II diabetics have even more insulin available, because their insulin is generally higher than normal all day long. [More insulin = more cancer]
Heart disease: Highly concentrated sugars in large amounts may overwhelm the liver, causing excessive “small-density LDLs” to be formed. LDLs are a major risk factor in heart disease (eg, angina and heart attacks). [More sugar intake = more heart disease]
In addition to causing disease, excess sugar can reduce your body’s supply of certain B vitamins that counter stress, stave off colds, and keep you feeling energized. Of course, the less energetic you feel, the less you’re likely to exercise and the more likely your sugar intake is going to generate excess weight.

So, how much sugar is too much? According to the new guidelines from the American Heart Association, women of average height should aim for 25 grams of sugar daily, and men of average height should get no more than 38 grams. It doesn’t matter if the sugar comes from “high-fructose corn syrup” or is just plain table sugar. If your diet contains more than these guidelines (adjusted for height variations and activity level), you’re probably consuming too much sugar.

Now let’s compare two very different sources of sugar — an orange and a Big Gulp soda pop.

When you eat a large orange, you’ll eat about 17 grams of sugar. You’ll also get fiber that bulks it up. This bulk makes it unlikely that you’ll eat 5 big oranges — about 85 grams of sugar — in one sitting. But one 7-Eleven Big Gulp supplies 91 sugar grams, which go down much easier than all that fruit.

That’s the problem with highly concentrated sugars — it’s just too easy to consume too much sugar. So, Americans consume too much sugar, get obese, get diabetes, get cancer, and get heart disease. Of course, there are other factors involved in these various diseases. But for many of us, reducing concentrated sugars may be one of the most effective things we can do to improve our health.

To keep excess sugar from hurting you, look for hidden sugar in your everyday diet. Do you have a Coke at lunch and another with dinner? Each 12-oz can has 39 grams of sugar. That’s 78 grams a day which you might not have noticed. Over a year, that little soda pop habit can add pounds and increase the risk of serious chronic disease. Switch to plain coffee or tea (or gradually cut out caffeine altogether and drink water).

Ted, the 45-year-old in our example, began looking for hidden sugar in his everyday diet. He was very surprised that his daily soda pops added up to so much sugar. He switched to tea and gradually saw that spare tire deflate. He also found that his energy level was steadier throughout the day, since he avoided the spike and fall in blood sugar that comes with highly concentrated sugar.

Now it’s your turn. No need to be perfect. Just look for one or two high-impact changes you can make to cut highly concentrated sugars from your diet. You can gradually build on your successes. Your body will thank you for it!

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