While no one would argue that it’s unhealthy to load up on sugary sweets, is sugar really as bad as they say? This article takes a look at the hot debate over whether sugar is actually toxic and what potential health risks it can create.
For decades, health experts have warned that eating too much sugar can be very bad for your health. For a few generations, it’s been clear that kids shouldn’t be given tons of candy or soda that could potentially lead to cavities, excessive weight gain or the dreaded “sugar buzz.” However, the discussion about sugar and its potential health risks has recently shifted. In fact, many health experts are now claiming that sugar is actually a toxin and has more serious health implications than previously imagined.
Many health proponents point to recent findings regarding the intake of sugar and artificial sweeteners. These studies have found that sugar can have several health risks, some so significant that sugar itself should be considered a toxin. In their research, these health experts have found that sugar can increase the risk for the following health conditions:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
On the other side of the debate are those who remind us that sugar isn’t the only food doing this kind of damage to our bodies. In fact, foods like red meat, refined grains and salt can lead to many of the same health conditions as sugar when consumed to excess. Many health professionals believe that “toxic” is an exaggerated term when applied to sugar since it doesn’t have the same effects as poisoning of the body. In addition, many worry that singling out sugar as the enemy of health may cause some people to ignore other potentially unhealthy foods.
Sugar Intake Changes Over Time
One of the problems regarding sugar intake that these health experts indicate is the increase in sugars in processed foods. According to Health on Today, sugar intake has declined significantly since the 1970s, but that has been counteracted by the increase in high fructose corn syrup in processed foods. This artificial sweetener is just as bad for you as sugar and many people don’t realize how much of it they consume.
In addition to sugar intake increasing the risk for serious health conditions, there’s also the problem of getting insufficient nutrition. When consuming too much sugar or artificial sweeteners, many people are also lacking the nutrients they need in their diet. Instead, they are consuming empty calories by eating sugary foods rather than healthy fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Recent studies have found that Americans receive about 16% of the total calories in their diets from added sugar, most of which is coming from the following foods:
- Energy drinks
- Sports drinks
- Sugar-sweetened fruit drinks
- Ice cream and dairy desserts
- Cookies, cakes and other baked goods
Sugar VS High Fructose Corn Syrup
An area of the toxic sugar debate that is sometimes misunderstood is the difference between sugar and high fructose corn syrup. This man-made artificial sweetener is often made out to be much worse for you than sugar. However, CBS News conferred with health experts who agree that sugar and high fructose corn syrup are equally bad for you because they both contain fructose, which is what makes them taste sweet.
In fact, the only difference between these two sweeteners is that high fructose corn syrup now takes up a much larger portion of the American diet while consumption of actual sugar has gone down.
The key to avoiding sugar’s “toxic” properties is to limit the consumption of sugar and artificial sweeteners. The American Heart Association currently recommends that men consume no more than 150 calories (or 38 grams) of added sugar per day. Women are advised to limit their intake to 100 calories (or 25 grams) per day. That adds up quickly: just one can of regular soda has 126 calories from added sugars, which already exceeds a woman’s recommended daily limit.
The following tips can help individuals who are trying to cut down on their sugar intake:
- Drink water instead of soda.
- Check labels for any sign of added sugars, including terms like crystal dextrose, anhydrous dextrose, molasses, honey, liquid fructose, corn syrup and malt syrup.
- Replace sugary sweets with fruit.
- Eat smaller portions of sweets like cookies, cakes and chocolates.
Whether or not sugar is classified as “toxic,” there are no uncertainties about whether sugar is bad for your health. Sugar does increase the risk for serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, so it’s critical to monitor your intake of sugars and artificial sweeteners to help prevent these conditions.