Top Myths About Sugar
September 27, 2009 12:00 AM by Mehmet C. Oz, MD, and Michael F. Roizen, MD
Even if you're not raiding the office candy jar, you might be seriously overdosing on sugar. Most of us are: Americans consume a staggering 22 teaspoons of added sugars a day (that's 17% of the average American's daily calories); Canadians get a smidge less, but still manage 16 teaspoons a day. Those numbers aren't going down: Consumption of the sweet stuff has skyrocketed nearly 20% since 1970.
What's so bad about that? It's not just the extra calories (which, in themselves, raise your risk of obesity and the diabetes, arthritis, and cardiovascular disease that come along with it). Sugar added to food ages you and takes the place of healthy foods, making it tricky to get the nutrients you need. Here's what you need to know about the sweet stuff:
Myth or Truth: Most of the sugar we eat is from sweets.
Myth! Soda and sweetened drinks are the biggest offenders, delivering one-third of all added sugars.
Myth or Truth: Sugar from fruit or cake is all the same to your body.
Truth! BUT . . . fruit is still better. Yes, your body treats the natural sugar in foods like fruit and milk the same way it treats sugar from candy, meaning that it breaks it down to glucose for fuel and stores the excess as fat. But sugar from fruit gets absorbed slowly, while that from cake and other simple sugars increases your blood sugar to levels that cause arteries to age. Plus, natural sugar is packaged in good-for-you foods, so it brings important vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals along with it. And nature usually delivers sugar in small doses (3 teaspoons in an 8-ounce glass of milk versus 8 teaspoons in a can of cola). Also consider the fact that you usually don't inhale mammoth portions of, say, apples the same way you might tear into a pint of ice cream.
Myth or Truth: Sugar causes type 2 diabetes.
Truth . . . more or less. Type 2 diabetes (the more common kind) develops from eating too much of anything, including too much sugar. After you eat, your body breaks down food (sugary or otherwise) into glucose. Too much food translates into too much glucose, signaling your pancreas to crank out megadoses of insulin. Those unnaturally high insulin levels can do the equivalent of confusing your cells over time, making them unable to use insulin like they should. That causes sugar to pile up in your bloodstream instead of reaching your cells where it belongs.
Myth or Truth: Sugar makes you look old.
Truth! Too many sweets can make your skin look older than your great-grandfather's baseball glove. That's because sugar is attracted to collagen, a structural protein in your skin. Normally, collagen keeps skin elastic and supple. But when it hooks up with sugar, its structure changes and it can't do its job properly, so you end up with a face that looks older.
Myth or Truth: Sugar makes kids hyperactive.
Myth! Despite the hype, a mountain of research (23+ studies) reveals that sugar doesn't cause hyperactivity. So why do kids start bouncing off the walls at birthday parties? Because they're having fun. Still doesn't mean they should eat that Tootsie Roll.
Myth or Truth: Sugar causes heart disease.
Truth! Downing too much sugar raises troublesome blood fats known as triglycerides. When you eat more sugar than your body can burn, your liver repackages it into fat. Your liver then takes that fat and dumps it into your bloodstream, where it clogs up your arteries.
Myth or Truth: Eating lots of sugar raises your cancer risk.
Truth! Swedish researchers found that people who ate a sugar-heavy diet were 70% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those who shunned the sweet stuff. What's more, swigging lots of soda nearly doubled their odds. It's possible that frequent, large doses of sugar are toxic to many of your cells, causing damage that leads to cancer.
Bottom line: Sugar in food (not added to it) is OK; you can't avoid it. But limit your daily total to 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Check labels: sugars often have sneaky synonyms, so look for the suffix -ose (such as dextrose, sucrose or fructose) or pseudonyms like molasses, maple syrup, corn syrup, corn sweetener, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, fruit juice concentrate, malt syrup, rice syrup, and evaporated cane juice. Leave that stuff on the shelf.