We're all familiar with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans' advice to reduce the amount of added sugars in our eating patterns. Keeping them to less than 10% of our daily calories has been a topic of much discussion here on the blog, and today I want to talk about why that recommendation exists.
What is the impact of added sugars on health?
Let's take a closer look...
We'll begin with calorie density. Added sugars can displace more nutritious calories in your eating pattern, taking up space that would be better filled with nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, varied protein, and low-fat dairy. Plus, foods that contain added sugars are typically calorie dense and high in "empty calories." These provide calories but little nutritional value.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans explain, "When sugars are added to foods and beverages to sweeten them, they add calories without contributing essential nutrients. Consumption of added sugars can make it difficult for individuals to meet their nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits"
Those calorie limits lead to the second way that added sugars impact health: weight gain. If you regularly consume more calories than you need or burn, then you may end up struggling with weight. Obesity is linked to several chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancers. Unfortunately, foods that are high in added sugars routinely contribute to this surfeit of calories.
And that brings us to the third point of impact for added sugars: chronic illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintain, "Americans are eating and drinking too much added sugars which can lead to health problems such as weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. To live healthier, longer lives, most need to move more and eat better including getting fewer calories from added sugars."
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans back up this assertion, stating,
"Although the evidence for added sugars and health outcomes is still developing, the recommendation to limit calories from added sugars is consistent with research examining eating patterns and health. Strong evidence from mostly prospective cohort studies but also randomized controlled trials has shown that eating patterns that include lower intake of sources of added sugars are associated with reduced risk of CVD in adults, and moderate evidence indicates that these eating patterns are associated with reduced risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer in adults."
Now I want to take things one step further. Here's what you can do to reduce the impact of added sugars on your health. It's a two-pronged approach.
- Know what added sugars are and where they hide
- Reduce or limit your daily consumption of foods with added sugars
Let's start with the first part. The CDC has found that "The leading sources of added sugars in the U.S. diet are sugar-sweetened beverages, grain-based desserts like cakes and cookies, candy, and dairy desserts like ice cream."
Eat these foods in moderation.
You can also check the Nutrition Facts label on your foods to evaluate their added sugar content. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans have listed various names for added sugars that can appear on ingredient lists, and we've compiled them all for you here...
- Brown sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Raw sugar
- Turbinado sugar
Keep an eye out for other variants of sugar too, like evaporated cane juice and corn sugar.
Now let's take a look at the second prong: reducing your daily consumption of foods with added sugars. Here are a few suggestions from MyPlate, which asserts that you can limit the added sugars you eat or drink each day by...
- Drinking water, unsweetened tea or coffee, or other calorie-free beverages instead of sodas or other sweetened beverages
- Choosing beverages, such as low-fat or fat-free milk and 100% fruit juice, that will boost Dairy Group and Fruit Group intake to meet recommendations
- Choosing fruit as a naturally-sweet dessert or snack instead of foods with added sugars
- Making sweet desserts and snacks like cookies, cakes, pies, and ice cream, a once-in-a-while treat and choosing a small portion when you enjoy them
- Choosing packaged foods that have fewer or no added sugars such as plain yogurt, unsweetened applesauce, or frozen fruit with no added sugar or syrup
Whew, that was a lot of information! Here's a handout with the highlights...
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.