Sugar used to be a special treat, enjoyed occasionally, but those days are long gone. Sugar is now a major food group, and sugars in soft drinks are now the largest single source of calories in the American diet.
And while we’re all eating (and drinking) lots of added sugars, the age-group that tops the charts of sugar consumption is teens. Teens, in fact, consume more than 20 percent of their calories from added sugars. This appetite for refined sugar is a health concern, since added sugars contribute to obesity and its many consequences, can undermine normal satiety levels, motivating kids to eat more than they need, and perhaps even create food cravings. Sugary drinks and snacks replace nutritious food, and the repeated contact with sweet drinks also adds nothing to dental health.
But can teens also be risking their young heart and blood vessels?
A new study, lead by Jean Walsh, and published in this week’s Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, looked at the sugar intake of 2157 nationally representative teens (ages 12-18) as reported by diet questionnaires, and compared it to the teens’ measured blood lipids. The measured blood fats are well established indicators of heart disease risk: HDL (‘good’) cholesterol, LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, and triglycerides (high levels of which also increase risk).
This is what the researchers found:
• Teens consumed an average of about 120 grams (more than 4 ounces) added sugar a day, which amount to 28 teaspoons of sugar and 480 calories! Teens got 21 percent of their daily calories from added sugar.
• Added sugar was positively associated with known risk factors for heart disease: Teens who consumed the higher levels of added sugars had lower good cholesterol levels, higher bad cholesterol and higher triglyceride levels than those with lower sugar intake.
• Overweight or obese teens who consumed the highest levels of sugars had increased signs of insulin resistance.
These results suggest that long-term exposure to the high levels of sugar intake, typical of the American diet, may place teens at risk for heart disease later in adulthood.
How much sugar is too much?
Recently, The American Heart Association’s (AHA) issued new guidelines recommending that daily intake of added sugars should be limited to 5 percent of total calories — 100 calories daily (6 teaspoons) for women and 150 calories (9 teaspoons) for men — as a strategy for preventing heart disease. The AHA explains that added sugars have been linked with obesity and overeating, may raise blood pressure, can elevate blood triglycerides levels (a risk factor for heart disease) and raise the risk of several metabolic abnormalities and adverse health conditions.
The 2005 US Dietary Guidelines advice about sugar is rather foggy: “choose and prepare foods and beverages with little added sugars or caloric sweeteners”. That’s pretty much like telling a teenager not to go to sleep too late. Many are wondering if the new guidelines — the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Update is a tad overdue but is expected by the end of this month — will be a little more specific. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee called for a significant reduction of foods containing added sugars in its report.
And the picture above isn’t some random sugar pile. It’s actually what 480 calories in solid sugar looks like. Seems a bit much? I guess that liquefying it makes it go down quite smoothly.
Full disclosure: I’m vice president of product development for Herbal Water, where we make organic herb-infused waters that have zero calories and no sugar or artificial ingredients. I’m also a pediatrician and have been promoting good nutrition and healthy lifestyle for many years.
Reposted as part of Food Renegate's Fight Back Fridays--go join the food fight!