Our New Year’s resolutions often include weight loss and healthy eating—and reducing our sugar intake can help us meet both of those worthy goals. USDA guidelines recommend that we take in less than 10% of our daily calories from sugar. For older adults, consuming too much sugar increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, inflammation, osteoporosis, obesity, and loss of muscle mass.
These basic facts may be the reason sugar reduction made it onto your list of resolutions for 2021. Need a little more motivation? Check out these recent studies that make consuming sugar seem like even less of a sweet deal:
- Sugar is linked with dangerous fat deposits. A June 2020 study published by the European Society of Cardiology found that sugar consumption is linked with unhealthy fat deposits around the heart and other organs. This fat releases chemicals into the body that can be harmful to health. “Our findings provide more evidence that consuming too much added sugar and sugary drinks is related to a higher amount of fat tissue,” said study author Dr. Lyn Steffen of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. “And, we know that fat deposits are connected with higher risks of heart disease and diabetes.”
- Sugar increases, not decreases, the appetite. In December 2020, researchers from the University of Southern California confirmed the fact that sugar-sweetened beverages are a “significant driver of obesity” and are the single largest source of added sugar in American diets. But that’s not all. “Sugary drinks interfere with hormones that tell the body ‘I feel full,’ potentially contributing to obesity and undermining weight loss efforts,” they noted.
- Sugar shortens life. A sugar-rich diet raises the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. A March 2020 study from Imperial College London also showed that sugar can be damaging even apart from those conditions. The research team, headed by Dr. Helena Cochemé, found that sugar causes the body to accumulate a molecule called uric acid, which can shorten life even independently of obesity “There is substantial evidence that what we eat influences our life expectancy and our risk for age-related diseases,” said Dr. Cochemé.
- Sugar is bad for digestive health. In November 2019, researchers from the University of Alberta cautioned that even occasional sugar binges could be bad for our digestive system. They found that shortly after people with conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and colitis overindulged in sugar, their symptoms were likely to flare up. Study author Karen Madsen says this is because high-sugar diets encourage the increase of coli and other bad bacteria in the gut. Madsen also cautions that these bacteria could migrate past the gastrointestinal system, even into the brain.
- Sugar doesn’t perk us up or cheer us up. An April 2019 study by University of Warwick researchers found that while many of us reach for a sweet to improve our mood and energy, in fact, sugar consumption can make us feel fatigued and grouchy. “The idea that sugar can improve mood has been widely influential in popular culture, so much so that people all over the world consume sugary drinks to become more alert or combat fatigue,” noted study author Konstantinos Mantantzis. “Our findings very clearly indicate that such claims are not substantiated—if anything, sugar will probably make you feel worse.”
When it comes to reducing our sugar intake, banishing the sugar bowl from the table is only the first step. Most of the added sugar we consume comes from sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts, candy, and other sweet snacks. And sugar is also found in breakfast cereals, nutrition bars, and most processed foods—even in foods where you wouldn’t expect it to be. Read food labels. Look in the ingredients list, not only for “sugar,” but also for terms like “corn syrup” and words ending in -ose (fructose, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, glucose, etc.). Also, remember that “low-fat” versions of foods are often higher in sugar.
This doesn’t mean we should avoid everything that tastes sweet. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products contain naturally-occurring sugars that don’t cause the above problems and are also nutrient-rich. If you have questions about your sugar intake, consult your doctor or a qualified dietitian.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with information from the University of Southern California, the European Society of Cardiology, Imperial College London, the University of Alberta, and the University of Warwick