American Heart Association: Cut Back on Sugar!


We’ve known for a long time now that we need to stay away from too many sweets if we’re trying to watch our weight. Now the American Heart Association has issued a strict edict: cut back on sugar!

The average person takes in 22 teaspoons of “added sugar” daily. Added sugar is not only what we add ourselves, like the sugar in my coffee or tea; it includes food and drinks that already have sugar in them when we buy them, which is almost everything. It’s the obvious culprits like soft drinks, cookies, candy, and cake that include “added” sugar. One can of soda alone includes 8 teaspoons of added sugar. But it’s also more innocent foods like granola and yogurt that have sugar that we typically just don’t think about. And don’t forget that some breads have sugar, too. In any case, the American Heart Association is now recommending a total of 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men daily. I’m not sure how any of us are going to be able to pull that one off.

For the AHA, the concern is not so much that sugar leads to heart disease but that too much sugar leads to other risk factors that can lead to heart problems. Too much sugar consumption in someone’s daily diet would contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, high levels of triglycerides, and high levels of C-reactive protein (which can sometimes lead to oxidative stress and inflammation). It all sounds pretty scary. But here’s the bottom line, according to Rachel Johnson, a registered dietitian and one of the professors of nutrition at the University of Vermont:

“The primary pitfalls of added sugars are that they deliver empty calories and they tend to replace other nutrient-rich foods in our diet. Because most of us lead a fairly sedentary lifestyle, the food we do eat needs to be packed with nutrients.”

The problem is that we don’t eat whole foods, and most processed foods have sugar and preservatives and are void of any nutritional value. Beyond that, which this particular AHA report does not mention, is the devastating effect of sugar on the body and immunity. Excessive sugar hurts the immune defenses in our body. Studies have shown that taking 20 teaspoons (or 75-100 grams) of sugar, the equivalent of two and a half cans of soda, can depress immunity as much as 50%! That is, the sugar produced a 50% drop in the white blood cells’ effectiveness at fighting off bacteria.

The American Heart Association does not offer specific guidelines for cutting down on sugar. However, it does make two simple recommendations. First, stop or reduce the amount of soft drinks. In reality, it’s like changing any other habit. It takes work at first. But once you’ve done it for a while, you’ll wish you’d given it up long before. Next, reduce the intake of processed foods. Instead, eat more whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and seeds.

“Elisa Zied, a registered dietitian and American Dietetic Association spokesperson, says staying away from heavily refined foods means ‘you’ll not only save yourself from too much sugar, but you’ll also reduce the risk of overloading on sodium and fat and calories in general.’”

Doesn’t it seems like we’ve heard this before?

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