We commonly use the adjective “sweet” to imply niceness….and of course the taste that has so domineered our palate. But the “added sugars” that help achieve the latter are anything but sweet to our hearts, brains or blood vessels. (I’ll refrain from using the word bittersweet.) They are cloying together (my new term) to raise our bad cholesterol and enhance our demise from heart attack and stroke.
Our palate preferences have been fostered and exploited by the food industry. They know their market and have been happy to cater to our preferred taste for sweet by adding sugars in the form of refined beet or cane sugars and high-fructose corn syrup in processed or prepared food.
According to an article published in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), we ingest an average of 89.8 grams (21.4 teaspoons) or 359 calories of added sugar daily. This represents 15.8% of our total daily caloric intake and 31.7% of our total carbohydrate intake (as compared to just 10.6% in the late 70’s). These numbers were based on a study of adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination or NAHMES. (No, it wasn’t a pass-fail test and the subjects were not college students; as a matter of fact, they consisted of a “US civilian, noninstituitionalized population designed to obtain nationally representative estimates on diet and health indicators”). Individuals who were taking cholesterol- lowering medications and those with a diagnosis of diabetes were excluded. More than 6,000 adults were followed between 1999 and 2006; over half were women. (So we had due representation.) The participants were interviewed and gave a detailed 24 hour dietary recall. The nutrient content of the food they stated that they had consumed was determined by NAHMES from the US Department of Agriculture Nutritional Database as well as the MyPyramid Equivalents Database. (I guess a single source might have been questioned by the food industry.) The NAHMES investigators also collected fasting blood samples which they then tested for 3 lipid abnormalities: elevated triglyceride levels, elevated levels of small LDL-C particles and reduced HDL-C levels …all of which contribute to “dyslipidemia” (bad lipid levels that lead to coronary heart disease). So here is what they found:
- A mean weight gain in one year of 2.8 pounds among those “extra sugar eaters” who consumed 25% or greater total energy from added sugar compared to a mean loss of 0.3 pounds among those who consumed less than 5% total energy from sugar.
- In women who consumed more than 10% of their calories as added sugar, the odds that their good cholesterol or HDL-C was low (think the stuff that acts as a roto-rooter in your arteries) was 50 % to 300% greater than women who consumed less than 5% added sugar in their diets.
- A higher level of triglycerides and a higher ratio of triglycerides to HDL-C in those who consumed more than that 10% of calories though sugar.
I know I am giving a lot of “higher” and “lower” numbers, but alas, that is what statistics are all about. Put simply, the higher your intake of “added sugar” the more likely you will gain weight and ruin your good and bad lipid levels. It’s not enough to just eat low fat or abstain from the wrong fats in order to maintain an internal cholesterol and fat ratio that will protect your blood vessels, heart and brain. You have to abstain from ubiquitous “added sugars”. Check the labels on those sodas, coffee drinks, canned food, cookies, soups, cereals, breads or anything that is processed. (And the term “naturally sweetened” doesn’t mean that the sugar is exempt from the above.). Your overall “added sugar” should not be higher than 100 calories a day or 5% of your caloric intake. There is nothing sweet about the wrong fats that clog vessels and result in heart attack and stroke.