Many healthful food products, such as dairy products, vegetables, and fruit, naturally contain sugars. The sugar in these foods gives them a sweeter taste.
It is important for people to include these foods in their diet, as they come with a range of other nutrients that provide valuable health benefits.
However, manufacturers tend to add sugar to foods such as cereals and cake and some drinks. It is these added sugars, or free sugars, that cause health problems.
Unlike foods and drinks that naturally contain sugar, those with added sugar provide no nutritional value. They are also a poor energy source, as the body digests added sugar very quickly. Consuming too much may cause health problems over time.
This article discusses five reasons why added sugars are bad for health.
1. Lack of nutritional value
Sugar does not provide any vitamins or minerals.
Sugar is an empty calorie.
Adding it to foods and drinks significantly increases their calorie content without adding any nutritional benefit. The body usually digests these foods and drinks quickly. This means that they are not a good source of energy.
Products that naturally contain sugar are different. For example, fruits and dairy products contain natural sugars. The body digests these foods at a slower rate, making them a lasting source of energy.
Such products also tend to contain other nutrients. For example, they also contain fiber and a range of vitamins and minerals.
The average adult in the United States consumes around 308 calories from added sugars per day. This is a lot more than the American Heart Association’s (AHA) recommendations of 100 calories from added sugars for females and 150 calories for males.
Consuming empty calories undermines the health benefits of consuming other foods and drinks that do have nutritional value. It can also cause imbalances, where nutrient deficits can lead to further health complications.
2. Weight gain
A significant risk of consuming excess dietary sugar is weight gain.
In most cases, sugary foods and drinks are high in calories. Consuming too many of these products will lead to weight gain, even with regular exercise. There is strong evidence showing that excess dietary sugar is a cause of weight gain.
As the body usually digests products containing added sugars more quickly, they do not offset hunger for very long. This can lead to eating more regularly throughout the day and a greater calorie intake overall.
There is also some evidence to suggest that sugar can affect the biological pathways that regulate hunger.
A study in rats from 2011 revealed that a diet high in fat and sugar could lead to leptin resistance. Leptin resistance occurs when the body no longer responds to leptin correctly. The study authors found that removing sugar from the diet reversed leptin resistance.
Another study from 2014 found that sugary drinks could be a particular problem for leptin resistance.
It is important to note that sugar does not cause weight gain and obesity by itself. Sugar is one of several causes. Being overweight or obese is the result of a complex interaction between diet, physical activity, genetics, and social and environmental factors.
However, limiting the amount of sugar in a diet is one of the simplest ways to prevent weight gain.
Drinking soda or other sugary drinks may increase a person’s risk of developing diabetes.
There is a link between consuming sugary drinks and developing type 2 diabetes.
It is not true that sugar causes diabetes. A high-calorie diet of any kind can lead to type 2 diabetes.
However, in most cases, diets high in sugar are high in calories. This can increase the risk of diabetes.
Sugary drinks are particularly problematic.
A meta-analysis of data from 310,819 people found that those with a high consumption of sugary drinks had a 26 percent greater risk of type 2 diabetes than those with a low consumption. The study defined “high consumption” as between one and two sugary drinks per day.
The American Diabetes Association recommend avoiding sugary drinks to prevent type 2 diabetes.
4. Tooth cavities
Sugar consumption can cause tooth decay, which may lead to the development of cavities.
After eating sugar, bacteria in the mouth form a thin layer of plaque over the teeth. These bacteria react with the sugars present in foods and drinks. This reaction triggers the release of an acid that damages teeth.
It is possible for the body to repair some of this damage itself. Over time, however, a diet high in sugar will cause lasting damage. This can lead to tooth cavities. Cavities are permeant holes that form on teeth.
Limiting the intake of foods high in sugar is one effective way to prevent tooth cavities.
5. Heart disease
High-sugar diets may increase the risk of heart disease.
The results of a 15-year study suggest that people with a lot of added sugar in their diet are significantly more likely to die from heart disease than people with minimal amounts of added sugar in their diet.
Again, research suggests that sugary drinks may be particularly problematic for increasing the risk of heart disease. This association may be because sugary drinks are high in calories, do not affect hunger, and provide an insufficient amount of energy.
Although there is a clear link, more research will be necessary to better understand the relationship between sugar and heart disease.
Added sugars to look out for
Many products contain added sugars such as honey.
Added sugars can appear in many surprising products. Checking the contents of food before buying it is one way to avoid added sugar.
However, some food labels make it difficult to tell whether they contain added sugar, as there are many different names for it.
Some examples of other names for added sugar include:
- agave nectar
- high-fructose corn syrup
- corn sweetener
- crystalline fructose
- evaporated cane juice
To maintain a healthful diet, it is best for males to consume no more than 36 grams (g) of added sugar per day, and for females to consume no more than 25 g per day.
This is the recommendation from the AHA. Currently, the average person in the U.S. consumes far more than these limits.
Sugar is not unhealthful in itself. However, consuming a natural source of sugar is better for health than consuming added sugars.
Having excess sugar in the diet can cause a range of conditions, including heart disease, weight gain, and diabetes.
To be aware of added sugars in food products, it is important to read labels carefully.