How Much Sugar Is Too Much?
Have you ever wondered why you can’t seem to banish that stubborn, unwanted belly fat? Do you endlessly perform one abdominal exercise after another with no visual improvement? Well, guess what? The excess sugar in your diet might be to blame! The popular statement “Abs are made in the kitchen” just might be true…
Recent research examined the role added sugars play in our health and how increased sugar intake can contribute to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. In the April 2012 issue of Nutrition Action, the Center for Science in Public Interest (CSPI) investigated how much excess sugar (high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose or table sugar) average Americans consume each day. What did the CSPI find? Typical Americans ingest 22 to 28 teaspoons of added sugars (350 to 440 empty calories) a day! Most of these empty calories are consumed in the form of soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, coffee drinks, cupcakes, cookies, muffins, doughnuts, granola bars, chocolate, ice cream, sweetened yogurt, cereal, and candy. So, just how much added sugar is too much? If women reduced their sugar intake to 100 calories (6 ½ teaspoons) a day and men decreased their sugar consumption to 150 calories (9 ½ teaspoons) a day, both women and men would lose unwanted belly fat and reduce their risk of disease.
In three studies, researchers randomly assigned participants to two groups. One group consumed beverages made with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup and the other group ingested diet beverages, typically made with aspartame, for 10 weeks. As predicted, the group who drank the beverages containing sugar or high-fructose corn syrup gained weight. Researchers further examined the greater likelihood that fructose is absorbed in an individual’s belly than elsewhere in the body. In 2009, researchers at the University of California, Davis studied 32 overweight or obese middle-aged men and women. For 10 weeks, 25 percent of the participants’ calories were derived from beverages sweetened with either fructose or glucose*. They found that all participants gained weight (approximately 3 pounds), however only the participants who consumed the fructose-containing beverages gained visceral (or deep belly) fat. Furthermore, deep belly fat is more likely to cause heart disease and diabetes than fat just underneath the skin (subcutaneous fat).
So now what?! What is the bottom line? The CSPI recommends that we limit fruit juices to no more than 1 cup a day and entirely eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages. In addition, we need to limit added sugars, such as high-fructose corn syrup, cane or beet sugar, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, agave syrup, and honey. We do not have to worry about the naturally occurring sugar in fruit, milk, and plain yogurt. However, try to consume your fruit earlier in the day as these are simple carbohydrates (sugar) and are quick to burn-off and produce energy. So, the next time you are craving a sweet temptation, try eating a cup of plain Greek yogurt with a handful of fresh blueberries instead of the candy bar – your belly will thank you!
What other sweet but healthy treats can you think of?
Post your ideas below!
If you have a sweet tooth and must consume sugar, here are some substitutes (all equal to 1 cup of white sugar):
- Honey – 1/2 to 2/3 cup
- Maple Syrup – 1/2 to 3/4 cup
- Molasses – 1/2 cup
- Organic Unrefined Sugar – 1 cup
- Sorghum – 1/2 cup
- Stevia Extract – 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon
- Sucanat – 1 cup
* References: Center for Science in Public Interest, Nutrition Action, April 2012