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Sugar Consumption and Metabolic Disease



Sugar is an ingredient that revolves around our daily lives. It is a substance that occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy. Consuming these types of foods has also been proven to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. [1] However, when it comes to added/processed sugar, the effects are a complete contrast to its natural counterpart.


To simply define it, added sugar is sugar that food manufacturers add to products to increase flavor or extend shelf life. In the American diet, common sources of added sugar include soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored yogurt, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy… soups, bread, cured meats, and ketchup. According to Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “excess sugar’s impact on obesity and diabetes is well documented, but one area that may surprise many men is how their taste for sugar can have a serious impact on their heart health.” [1]


Excess sugar has detrimental effects on one's heart health. People who got 17% to 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. This is because high amounts of sugar overload the liver and, over time, it can lead to a greater accumulation of fat, which may in turn into fatty liver disease – a contributor to diabetes, which raises the risk for heart disease. Clinical diet intervention studies in healthy men and women demonstrate that sugar consumption at commonly consumed levels can increase risk factors for metabolic disease [1, 3]. In other words, it can lead to metabolic syndrome.


Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. These conditions include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol triglycerides. It is a disease that affects up to one-third of U.S. adults. While there aren’t any symptoms that pertain to metabolic syndrome, the most common trait would be a visibly large waist circumference and symptoms of diabetes – such as increased thirst and urination, fatigue, and blurred vision. Metabolic syndrome is closely linked to obesity and inactivity which causes insulin resistance – whereby our body struggles to break down sugar into energy due to our body’s insensitivity to insulin, resulting in high blood sugar levels [2].


So, how much added sugar is safe to consume?


The American Heart Association suggests that women consume no more than 100 calories (about 6 teaspoons/24 grams) and men no more than 150 calories (about 9 teaspoon/36 grams) of added sugar per day. Practicing healthy lifestyle habits such as limiting saturated fat and salt in our diet and including at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days will also reduce the likelihood of metabolic syndrome and other chronic diseases caused by poor dieting and a sedentary lifestyle.


Whether it is to improve healthy habits or to lose weight, it is also important to keep in mind that cutting back on sugar should be done gradually; Dr. Hu warns against being overzealous in our attempts to cut back on added sugar, as this can backfire because of the extreme cravings we are likely to experience from a sudden avoidance to the bittersweet substance.



References:

1. The sweet danger of sugar. Harvard Health. (2022, January 6). Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar

2. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, May 6). Metabolic syndrome. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/metabolic-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20351916

3. Stanhope, K. L. (2016). Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity: The state of the controversy. Critical reviews in clinical laboratory sciences. Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4822166/



 


Contributors:

Author: Georgia Sukendro

Editor: Kayjah Taylor

Health scientist: Joanna Gudino



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