Re-posted from the Johns Hopkins Health Alert email The Compelling Case Against Sugar
For years, nutrition experts have warned that consuming too much sugar contributes to excess weight gain. Now, a mounting body of scientific evidence suggests that sugar is even more detrimental to the body than was previously believed. As a result, a growing chorus of scientists and public health advocates is urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to set safe limits for sugar consumption.
Recently, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, took matters even further, suggesting that sugar should be regulated by the government to protect public health — just like alcohol and tobacco. Sugar, they argue, is a toxic substance with a tremendous potential for abuse because it affects the brain in a way that encourages people to consume larger amounts, even when they should be satisfied with what they’ve already had.
What’s more, they contend, sugar changes a person’s metabolism, altering the signaling of hormones (including leptin, ghrelin, and dopamine, which regulate satiety, hunger, and pleasure, respectively) in a detrimental way. In other words, the researchers say, sugar is addictive.
That point of view is quite controversial, however, so it’s not likely that sugar is going to be banned or regulated by the government — at least not anytime soon. Nevertheless, the latest research makes a compelling case for determining just how much sugar is safe for human consumption — and for cutting back on the amount of sugar you consume.
The dangers of added sugar. First, it’s important to distinguish natural sugars from added sugars. Natural sugars are an essential part of our diet because the human body converts them to glucose to meet its energy needs. Natural sugars are found in varying amounts in fruits and vegetables, which contain fructose, and in dairy products, which contain lactose.
Added sugars, on the other hand, are not essential. Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared, as well as the sugar you add to your coffee, tea, cereal or other foods. Whether it’s added in the form of white sugar, raw sugar, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey or molasses, it’s all sugar.
Added sugar has been implicated in a variety of ills, from raising blood pressure and increasing the risk of gout to causing liver damage and accelerating the aging process. Some of the strongest evidence to date shows associations between excess sugar consumption and diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
How much added sugar is too much? Surprisingly, the answer to this question varies. Currently, the USDA recommends that people consume no more than 10 teaspoons of added sugar in a 2,000-calorie per day diet. At 16 calories per teaspoon, that’s 160 calories each day. These days people typically consume twice that amount.