Added sugar is everywhere in the modern diet, lurking in many unexpected foods we assume are otherwise healthy. That means we’re often eating the sweet stuff and don’t even know it.
The fact is, 80 percent of the 600,000 consumer packaged foods in the United States have added sugar, according to Robert Lustig, M.D., Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). And here’s another sugar shocker: The American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that Americans consume over 110 pounds (or about 22 five-pound bags) of added sugar per year. Break that down to the daily level, and we’re way over the recommended limit, downing the equivalent of 22 teaspoons (or 88 grams) of added sugars a day.
The Side Effects of Added Sugars
Science shows the consumption of added sugar in vast quantities can wreak havoc on our bodies over time. Both the AHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that the added sugars in sodas, baked goods, and other processed foods are likely responsible for the increase in calorie consumption and the subsequent rise in obesity among American adults and children over the past few decades.
Today, approximately two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. That’s not even the worst part: In addition to its association with obesity, excess sugar consumption has been linked to many more serious health conditions such as food addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, cavities, insulin resistance, high triglycerides, fatty liver, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Daily Recommendation for Added Sugar
It’s important to note that the big no-no for your health is the sugar that’s added to food and beverages during preparation or processing. Naturally-occurring sugars—those found in small amounts in fruits, vegetables, and milk—are not the problem. These foods contain important nutrients or are often high in fiber (or commonly paired with high-fiber foods), which slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
The AHA recommends women should max out at the equivalent of 6 teaspoons (24 grams) of added sugars daily; men should stop at 9 teaspoons (36 grams). If you have any health conditions that are influenced by sugar consumption, it is best to minimize or completely eliminate added sugar.
Added Sugars in Sports Drinks
With all those cool commercials featuring famous athletes guzzling colorful concoctions, sports drinks are a marketer’s dream—and we’re buying it. According to the latest statistics, Americans drink over five gallons of the neon sports drink stuff per capita per year.
Not to be confused with caffeine-boosted energy drinks (like Red Bull or Monster), non-caffeinated sports drinks contain nutrients meant to help you achieve a superior workout while keeping you hydrated.
The big sell of sports drinks are electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium) that are added to replace the minerals lost when you sweat. But the carbs in many popular sports drinks are nothing but sugar, which is okay in cases when you need sustained energy for activities like running a marathon, but less than ideal as your regular workout hydrator.
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Here are a few facts about sports drinks:
- The most popular brands of sports drinks contain more than double the daily recommended amount of sugar.
- According to numerous studies, the added nutrients in sports drinks are effective only during intense exercise lasting over an hour.
- According to the University of Illinois Extension, the sugar found in sports drinks delays the absorption of fluids, which slows hydration.
- These sugary drinks pack a hearty helping of calories. For casual athletes, that means you’re drinking more calories than you’re burning.
Don’t be tricked by nutrition on the label, as many sports drinks only list the numbers for an 8- or 12-ounce serving. That’s far less than the whole bottle—which you’ll most likely guzzle down while working out. If you want a fitness water without the sugar (or calories), check out these four options:
You can also dilute your favorite sports drink with water to cut the sugar, or get more serious with these simple ideas.
1. Try “fitness water” for quick workouts. Lightly sweetened, or not sweetened at all, these designer waters contain electrolytes plus offer flavor if you’re not crazy about plain old water. (Avoid carbonated water, as the bubbles can cause an upset stomach.)
2. Got milk? According to a study at McMaster University, low-fat milk is a better option than either a sports drink or water as a source of high-quality protein, carbohydrates, calcium, and electrolytes, especially for kids. Try low-fat chocolate milk postworkout to replenish both essential carbs and protein.
3. Fuel with foods. Avocados, bananas, beans, green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds are rich in electrolytes. Nibble those and drink from the tap, and you’re good to go before or after you exercise.
This article was excerpted from Sugar Shock: The Hidden Sugar in Your Food and 100+ Smart Swaps to Cut Back. Copyright © 2020. Published by Hearst Home, an imprint of Hearst Books/Hearst Magazine Media, Inc.
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